As pressure mounts on leaders to learn new ways of doing things, so it exposes those who have the courage to learn new things and those who don’t.
Having helped business leaders prepare for the future of work for the past 17 years, long before the future was considered important, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon while engaging with senior executives to help them unlearn outdated knowledge and relearn new knowledge so they can operate with comfort and confidence in the workplace of the future. It has become very clear to me that, when they are faced with having to learn something new, some of them don’t have the courage to do so.
It’s as simple as that. They don’t have the courage to admit to themselves, let alone anybody else, that they don’t know something. And one of the basic requirements of learning anything is that you have to acknowledge that you don’t already know it. After all, if you kid yourself that you know everything, why should you be having to learn something you already know?
As I gently help them come to terms with the fact that there are things they don’t know, I remind them of what the late John Wooden, Head Basketball Coach at UCLA, once said: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
There’s no question that these men and women have acquired a significant amount of knowledge, wisdom and understanding over the decades that they have been in leadership roles, and one must salute them for this. They have risen to the top by applying astute insights during the course of their work, but somehow they can’t bring themselves to admit to themselves that the knowledge which got them to where they are today is not enough to get them to where they need to go tomorrow.
And that’s one of the reasons why they battle with change. After all, their knowledge is what got them to where they are, so it must surely be good enough to get them to where they still want to go. American author and speaker, Professor Leo Buscaglia, put it this way when he said: “Change comes as a result of all true learning.”
The point is, if we don’t have the courage to admit to ourselves that the knowledge we acquired at university, in our first, second and/or third jobs has become outdated, insufficient, no longer valid or relevant, we will never, repeat never, change – because we’re not prepared to acknowledge that there must be something we still have to learn. And so, because there is no true learning, there is no change.
If you’re wanting to build a career full of promise and potential, if you want to prosper in the future, it might be worth adopting the advice of that oft quoted sage, Mahatma Ghandi, who said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
That’s right. The knowledge you require for the next 10 years will not be the same knowledge you will require for the 10 years after that. Have the courage to admit to yourself that what you know now is not what you need to know in the future. That doesn’t mean you simply discard everything you’ve ever learnt in favour of the so-called fad of the month. It means you accept that you will always have to keep learning, no matter what. That means that the path of lifelong earning has no final destination.
See your learning like this: treat everything you learn as the foundation for all new knowledge you learn along the road of life. In other words, the knowledge you acquire along the road of life simply serves as the base – the foundation – on which you build all other learning. And while you’re alive, you keep building and building your knowledge.
We all need to learn different things, and we need to learn different things at different stages of our lives. The important thing, though, is that you never stop learning. Leaders who try to make it on knowledge they learned 10 years ago will end up embarrassing themselves and disappointing the people they lead.
It takes courage to admit that your knowledge is outdated, that you no longer “know it all” in your field. But then, as John Wooden said, it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts!
Alan Hosking is the Publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net, @HRFuturemag. He is a recognised authority on leadership skills for the future and teaches business leaders and managers of all generations how to lead with integrity, purpose and agility. In 2018, he was named by US-based web site Disruptordaily.com as one of the “Top 25 Future of Work Influencers to Follow on Twitter“.