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5 Gears of Leadership: Cog 5-Learning

Years ago a mentor told me there were 3 gears of leadership---lean, learn, and lead. OK, so the alliteration activates the old preacher synapses in me. Still, the basic premise is that leaders operate most effectively when there is a solid faith element and a constant learning profile. It's an axiom of contemporary leadership as well: leaders are life-long learners.

The faith and learning components are complementary. In most evangelical systems faith is a growing life experience. A growing faith is typically pictured as a life process that moves the new believer from infancy in faith toward spiritual maturity, completed when we are moved from this life to the next. Biblical faith, then, is pre-disposed to learning. When Peter wrote, "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18) there's little argument that he was teaching the natural learning curve of trhe Christan life. As Christ's character is developed in us, the reality of this new mind and new creation, the growth is an element of our spiritual learning. Paul's epistles often reference this journey, a race to be attained, a course to run. He confessed that he had not gotten there. But, he expected his learning to be complete at death. This is all to say that being a learner shouldn't be some strange, foreign concept to believers. It is the path to spiritual maturity.

Of course, life-long learning isn't restricted to people of faith, Christian or any other. Great leaders, regardless of confession or creed, understand the necessity of life-long learning in mapping their own leadership path and the mission of their organization. It's thrilling to me to observe this precept of faith being recognized and accepted in the secular world, the metrics of discipleship in business training and career development. Of course, life-long learning is mandated by many licensing agencies and CEU's are as visible in the professional ranks as annual reviews, golden parachutes, and mission statements. It's because deadwood is dangerous to effective organizations, especially in the lives of the people who lead them. What is more, the conplex dynamics of our information/service economy present problems and challenges that can only be addressed by up-to-date methods. The buggy whip manual and smart phone manual may not be all that compatible.

OK, so my role doesn't require re-certification, licensing, or other mandated learning processes. So, how do I become a life-long learner? This question is asked by more pastor's and church staff than you can imagine, and I'm sure of those employed in the information and service world as well. So, the anwer, while broad in nature, may be more job/career specific than I know. But, here are some tips.

(1) Be very self aware. Know what you can do and what you can't do, your strengths, abilities, skills, and talents, and their opposites. If you haven't done it, purchase Tom Rath's great "Strength Finder 2.0), read the first 31 pages, then log on to their web site and take the inventory. It will help you narrow the focus somewhat on what you bring to the table.

(2) Read. Years ago I discovered three reading areas that interest me. Today I read everything I can in those areas. In case you were wondering, they are World War II leaders, Colonial American leaaders, ans the assasination of John F. Kennedy. Yes, detective Munch, I'm a conspiracy theorist. What is amazing, in reading book after book about these topics I have learned so much more. So, I recommend reading as much as possible as a means of learning.

(3) Conference. Two or three times a year I attend conferences that stretch the parameters of my learning resevoir. Sometimes they involve themes or disciplines that are way outside my usual areas of learning. They also expose me to people who, like me, are trying to grow.

(4) Join an accountability group. Over the years accountability partners have been essential in my personal growth and learning plan. This may result from studying a book or subject with them, and the usual discussion that follows. Jsut as often, I learn from them as we hammer out the essentials of every day living or pastoring.

(5) Get out of the bubble. Most of us live in a bubble of some sort. For thirty five years mine has been a baptist bubble, or a church bubble. or a Citadel (my alma mater) bubble. Sometimes just moving in another crowd or changing the predicted path can result in a vast learning experience.

And, there are many more hints about becoming a learner. Google "life-long learning" and you'll get 14.7 million possibilities in just .58 seconds. Often the path to life-long learning is as individual and specific as the person sharing hte insights. One comon thread united the ones I reviewed. They all said learning ends at death. Well, duh! That's what makes it life-long, I suppose. But, that's the deal, too. Great leaders never stop learning. They make learning and intentional element of their own personal growth and the people in their organization.

My learning path is more speific than that. Jesus said, "...learn from me..." (Matthew 11:29). I'm praying I can do that until I release that last breath.

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