Healthy Leaders are Learners


Recently my wife Dr. Linda Mintle, @drlindamintle reposted one of my blogs. She writes on mental health issues and has great insights into the human psyche which are enjoyed and appreciated by her many readers.

This week, I’m borrowing from her latest blog “7 Ways to Make Yourself a Super Learner” and adapting it specifically to the vital importance of continuous learning for healthy leaders.

1. Learning Leaders are curious. Michael J. Gelb @MichaelJGelb wrote a fascinating book years ago that I often used in my Leadership Communication grad courses, How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci. Of the seven principles he explored from the maestro’s life and work, curiosity, or curiositá was highest ranked. Da Vinci advises today’s learning leaders, as he has since the Renaissance, to prioritize “getting the right question” rather than seeking the right answer.

Curious leaders are learners. Always seeking to discover a better, more efficient or superior approach to policies, issues or situations within their organization. (See Kouzes & Posner’s 5 Practices of Exemplary Leaders @KouzesPosner.) These leaders are self-critiquing; they challenge their own processes in an effort to improve personally and throughout the organization. And, they invite all stakeholders to do the same in a safe and healthy environment.

2. Learning Leaders are readers. Curiosity inevitably leads to exploration. Leaders who have a proclivity to improve themselves mentally, professionally, spiritually, etc., go far beyond today’s mini-versions of communication (144 characters, memes, etc.) in an effort to understand. Reading for depth and context is invaluable in this pursuit. How many books do you read each year? How many newspaper or magazine articles over 1500 words do you read?

Reading Leaders are intentional about this healthy behavior. They purposefully read from opposing political/cultural perspectives. They build their own problem-solving skill sets by delving deeply into the written word.

3. Learning Leaders see the Big Picture. One of the greatest distinctives of a healthy leader is the ability to form and espouse a strong vision. Vision creates the life-blood, the raison d’etre of every organization. The Learning Leader has discovered how to express vision in ways so that every valued member of the enterprise can see him/herself in that picture. How their unique contributions make the overall organization better, stronger and more successful. In this way, the Learning Leader is a Teaching Leader — always desiring for his employees the same benefits of growth, improvement and development he also craves.

4. Learning Leaders have a Growth Mindset. Healthy leaders operate from a growth (rather than “fixed”) perspective. Dr. Linda Mintle writes, “Basically, it involves growing and learning, keeping an open-mind to improve your life. If you believe that the qualities that lead to success are fixed and a result of in-born abilities and talents, you have a fixed mindset. A person with a growth mindset believes in change, growth and resiliency. In-born abilities can be developed but they don’t determine success. Hard work pays off. Failure is a learning opportunity to show us what we need to do better. Anything, good or bad, can be used to teach. People with a growth mindset persevere with setbacks and don’t give up.”

5. Learning Leaders practice safe brain health. Do you take naps? One of the greatest secrets to brain-rejuvenation during the day is the quick “power nap.” Winston Churchill noted, “Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.” Albert Einstein napped each day. And, although embarrassed by his habit, Thomas Edison also practiced this daily ritual.

Learning Leaders also get proper nutrition, exercise and good nightly sleep. Sleep is the best kept secret for learning and retaining new information. Excessive drinking or junk food consumption rank as the greatest enemies of brain health.

So, change your diet. Get a good night’s rest. Exercise. And indulge in the occasional (or daily) nap. And never, never stop challenging the process.

A prescription for the Learning Leader’s ongoing success.

Norm Mintle