In reflecting upon the word ‘school’, what thoughts or emotions come to the surface of your mind? For those persons who left school a long time ago, there may be a fond reminiscing about the ‘good old days’. For those whose departure is more recent, there may be a sense of relief and happiness that it is finally over. But, I would argue that for a fair number of those persons who are currently in it, they are probably viewing the entire experience as a transient inconvenience and their days are spent wishing that it would be over – sooner rather than later.
Regardless of our individual perspectives on the matter, the importance of school is clearly apparent. We may engage in arguments about practices, procedures and policies relative to the schooling of our people, but there is widespread acceptance of the critical role played by these institutions in the past, present and future development of our nation.
In our country, compulsory education occurs between the ages of five and 16, but with various options available at the tertiary level, many persons are engaged in formal learning up to age 21 and even beyond. But it should not stop there. Personally, I love to learn and I believe that it must not be seen as being hemmed into a specific or mandated period of our lives or tied to so-called ‘institutions of learning’.
Life itself is a fertile learning ground from which many lessons and thought-provoking occurrences can be unearthed. When viewed from this perspective, we can appreciate that we should all endeavour to be life-long learners – examining each moment to see where a nugget of revelation may be that can totally change our way of thinking and behaving.
I often tell my sons that to learn means to change one’s behaviour and I believe that this is what the entire learning process is about. Not acquiring knowledge for having its sake, but for application in the further development and enhancement of self. If your learning isn’t tied to your changing, then your learning is in vain.
This, perhaps, is where our education system is in need of greatest reform – it must be tied to changing the behaviours of our youth and not just to the dispensing, testing and regurgitating of largely irrelevant facts and figures. But I digress.
You see, leaders learn. Not only are they people who love to learn new things, but they are also students of life and seek to learn from their experiences, their triumphs and even their mistakes and those of others. Show me a leader who is not continuously seeking to learn and I will show you a leader who is not growing, not changing and not improving.
I strongly believe that there is a subtle yet powerful link between a leader’s attitude towards learning and the tangible results of theorganisation.
Let’s examine this logically – if a leader is not continuously refreshing himself or herself and is not seeking new knowledge in their field of endeavour, how can they best position a country, an organisation or even a family in a rapidly evolving global environment? I told you before that for me and for many experts out there, to learn means to change one’s behaviour. So a learning leader will acquire new skills and capabilities that will allow him or her to better serve their organization.
Imagine with me, that you are sitting inside a very simple house. The house has four walls, one door, a ceiling and the floor (of course). Now imagine that this house is only four feet tall, so to get in, you have to crouch down to pass through the door. Would it be possible for you to stand up in this house? Unless you are three feet tall, it may be near impossible for you to stand up straight in this imaginary house.
When a leader refuses to continuously learn, this is the effect that he or she will have upon the organization. This leader will effectively be that ceiling in the house that limits each team member from standing up straight – and don’t even think about them being able to reach or even jump up higher. Conversely, a leader who engages in continuous learning will change and in so doing, the ceiling will perpetually move upward; this will not only create comfortable space for the team members under them to operate within, but it will also serve as motivational goal posts which each person can seek to surpass. Restrained learning brings limited realities, but borderless learning creates limitless possibilities.
I encourage us to seek to learn and in learning to change – to become better versions of ourselves for the good of those with whom we come into contact. Leaders must continue to learn and grow to make room for those who follow them.
If we refuse to expand ourselves, then we are in fact sentencing our people to our own boundaries.
(Davidson Ishmael holds a MBA in Leadership and Innovation and is an operations manager in the financial services sector.