The Best Leaders are the Best Learners

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John F. Kennedy quote on leadership

“There’s a leadership shortage in the world. It’s not a shortage of potential talent. The people are out there. The eagerness is out there. The resources are out there. The capability is out there. The shortage is the result of three primary factors: demographic shifts, insufficient training and experiences, and the prevailing mindsets that discourage people from learning to learn” (Kouzes and Posner, 2016)

A 2015 survey by the World Economic Forum reported that 86% of respondents agree there's a shortage of leaders in the world. Fortunately, Learning Leadership: The Five Fundamentals of Becoming an Exemplary Leader, from authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner, offers practical steps both emerging and existing leaders can use to sharpen their skills as they develop a leadership mindset. Using a combination of hard facts, research and relatable case studies, Kouzes and Posner present leadership as a set of abilities that can be learned and improved upon—with the ability to learn being the most critical leadership skill.

Learning Leadership emphasizes the importance of not being held back by any unconscious biases or 'myths' about leadership as we develop a leadership mindset. Whether you are developing leaders in your organization, or working to develop your own set of skills, here are 5 'Leadership Myths' that could be holding you back:

  • The Talent Myth: "You either have it or you don't."
    Kouzes and Posner's research confirms leadership is not actually an innate talent, but a learned set of skills and abilities. Counter this myth with the belief that you can develop as a leader and then act upon it.

  • The Position Myth: "Leaders are only found at the top."
    Don't confuse leadership with authority. Placement in a hierarchical position doesn't necessarily imply good leadership (and research shows the number one reason people leave jobs is because of their immediate manager). Leadership is about actions, not position. Counter this myth by aspiring to leadership excellence—do not be content with the status quo.

  • The Strengths Myth: "Only focus on what you are good at."
    In most instances, exceptional leaders flourish more often when confronted by challenges and adversity, rather than the situations they are good at or for which they feel prepared. Counter this myth by challenging yourself and your team to encourage innovation and cultivate a culture of curiosity and learning.

  • The Self-Reliance Myth: "If you can't do it yourself it isn't worth doing."
    Effective leaders must master many skills, but one of the most important is the ability to learn. Teamwork and the ability to engage others are essential. If leaders cannot enlist others, they are likely to fail. Counter this myth by engaging with others through coaching, mentoring and leadership training.

  • The It-Comes-Naturally Myth: "You don't need to practice."
    Learning Leadership presents a challenge to those who want to become exemplary leaders. Great leaders might make it look easy, but leadership requires practice and determination. Counter this myth by taking the initiative in your leadership development. Identify something you can do every day to improve as a leader—to see yourself as a leader and act upon it.

Learning Leadership encourages leaders to connect to a network of resources that can further your progress, support your development efforts and provide useful feedback. At Executive Forum, we can help you plan and implement your individual and organizational development programs at every stage, from building a solid foundation of leadership skills with Step-Up to mastering the challenges of Advanced Leadership, Coaching and Communication. Call 503.635.3079 or contact us for more information.

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