There are three primary ways that one can learn leadership (See Leaders Must Be Learners): direct personal experience, through the wise counsel of others, and through the study of leadership materials.
This article will focus on the third approach: learning leadership through the study of leadership materials. There is a wealth of information out there and there are so many options when it comes to resources. There are books, videos, websites, audio presentations, executive summaries, apps, blogs, podcasts, email subscription lists, etc. etc. etc. In fact, at the time of writing this article, there are over 479 million hits on Google using the keyword leadership. On Amazon.com there are currently 121,231 books you could order related to the topic. In many ways it is wonderful to have so much information available, but in other ways it’s overwhelming.
This mountain of options can cause some leaders to avoid the study of leadership material altogether. But this is a huge mistake. Leaders are learners and leaders are readers (or watchers, or listeners). They intentionally always have a book on the go. They use their commute time to listen to audio books or teaching talks. They set aside time to invest in personal leadership formation. Every leader has a different learning style and it’s important to know how one most effectively learns. In this pursuit, there are two key questions one needs to answer in their personal study of leadership resources:
- How do I choose what to study?
To answer this first question, common sense dictates the starting point: what aspects are you interested in or don’t know much about? Or what leadership difficulty are you facing right now that you might want help in? Find resources that meet these needs. If you are really stuck ask another leader what they might recommend. From my experience, I recommend a number of foundational books (see here) for any leader and a number of others that have been helpful in more specific aspects of leadership.
But there is also another lens to view this question through: will this resource help to build my character or my technical ability as a leader (read more about this here)? The technical approach involves skills, tools, frameworks, and templates in a whole host of important leadership settings. These are very important elements of effective leadership. In many ways these might be summed up as “what a leader does.” The character-based approach, on the other hand, involves something very personal, something we might describe as “who a leader is.” I believe that successful leaders develop both the technical and character-based aspects of their leadership but they use character development as the foundation for their choices of resources for leadership development.
- How do I ensure that I retain and apply what I have studied?
The most effective approach to the retention of material that I have experienced comes through what Stephen Covey calls “Three Person Teaching”. You can hear him explain it personally in the video below. But to briefly summarize it – your retention and application abilities sky-rocket when you are required to immediately teach others what you are learning yourself. Your brain actually processes the information differently as you think about how you will teach it to others. Practically, this might involve getting together with a few other peer leaders to share information and teach each other what you are learning. It might involve arranging a weekly download time with your staff where you pass on what you are learning. It might be starting a leadership blog or newsletter to share with your friends or the world the new concepts and ideas you are acquiring. When you force yourself to teach what you’ve just learned, you will achieve tremendous retention and results.
The study of leadership is a discipline that requires the virtue of temperance or self-control or self-mastery. It’s like physical exercise, when you do it regularly it becomes a lifestyle that improves every aspect of your well-being. As one dedicates time and develops a habit of leadership study, the discipline becomes automatic. It just becomes a part of who they are and the way they see the world. They are eager to learn, joyful at the discovery of new materials and anxious to teach and share them with others. In this way, not only is their leadership transformed, but they become agents of transformation with all those they lead.