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Leaders, Seriously?
Why Being a Learner Should Be Taken Seriously,
While Taking Yourself Too Seriously Is Counterproductive

June 21, 2024
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Permanent Beta. Always learning, never done.

Do you truly embrace a permanent beta mindset?

As we reflect on our own empirical data set at Steer, LLC, we note how individuals who embody a growth mindset serve as the catalysts for driving sustainable growth within organizations.

Leaders who embrace continuous learning and are willing to rethink their positions are better equipped to navigate the complexities of the modern business environment. The ability to challenge assumptions and consider multiple perspectives is critical for making well-informed decisions. Not only have we witnessed this with the thousands of leaders we have worked with, this principle is supported by neuroscience, organizational development data, and ancient wisdom.

 

  • The neuroscience: Continuous learning keeps the brain flexible and capable of adapting to new challenges. Lifelong learning maintains neuroplasticity, which is crucial for problem-solving and creative thinking. Contrary to the old saying, you can indeed teach an old dog new tricks—our capacity for learning persists well into advanced age. (Norman Doidge, MD, The Brain That Changes Itself)

  • The organizational and behavioral science data: A relevant Deloitte study from 2015 revealed that organizations with a strong learning culture are 92% more likely to develop novel products and processes. These organizations are 52% more productive and have engagement and retention rates 30-50% higher than those that do not prioritize learning.

  • Ancient wisdom: The value of being a learner has been recognized for over 2,500 years. A couple of our favorite quotes at Steer that continue to hold true of the human learning experience ...

"​Learning never exhausts the mind." - Leonardo da Vinci

"As long as you live, keep learning how to live." - Seneca

 

How can you take being a learner MORE seriously?

 

Make learning non-negotiable. Display intellectual humility.

 

Intellectual humility is the recognition and acknowledgment of the limits of one's knowledge, coupled with an openness to new ideas. You need a level of awareness that your beliefs and opinions might be wrong and a willingness to rethink them when presented with new information or compelling reasons. This fosters a culture of learning, curiosity, and respect, allowing individuals to engage with others' viewpoints without ego or defensiveness. It creates psychological safety. That culture starts with leadership.

 

  • Be aware of your limits: Know that your understanding of a topic is not complete - there is always more to learn. Admit when you do not know.

  • Be open to new ideas: Actively seek out perspectives that differ from your own and be receptive to information. Model curiosity and a culture of inquiry.

  • Respect and appreciate other viewpoints: Ask good questions. Be the world’s best listener. Listen to understand, not to respond. Value and consider the opinions and experiences of others, even when they may conflict with your own beliefs.

  • Be willing to rethink and change: Consider modifying your beliefs and attitudes when presented with credible evidence or compelling reasons. Reflect on feedback you are given. Celebrate mistakes as learning opportunities.

  • Empower your team: Prioritize creating an environment where everyone feels safe to express their thoughts - show that you trust and value your team's input.

"I never lose, I only win or I learn." - Nelson Mandela

NOW…How can you take yourself LESS seriously?

 

Leaders who take themselves too seriously can create a stifling environment that discourages open and honest communication and creativity. Recent Gallup research suggests leaders who exhibit humility and a sense of humor are more likely to build strong, trusting relationships with their teams. The stifling culture creates ripe conditions for a mass exit of your best people. THIS IS NOT OKAY. In order to retain your best people, self awareness of the energy you bring to the ecosystem is imperative. So put yourself up for review and be better. Positive relational energy matters.

Psychology suggests humor is a powerful tool for building relationships and reducing stress. I am not saying that all effective leaders have to be funny, I want you to be your authentic self, but I am saying leaders who are approachable and relatable foster a more engaged and motivated workforce, which is essential for sustainable growth and business results.

The Key? Balance seriousness and humor with self-awareness.

 

The best leaders are ones who balance the seriousness of their work with an accessible approach are better positioned to inspire and motivate their teams. Be authentic, approachable, and vulnerable - you will create a more resilient and adaptable organizational culture. Performance happens more readily when leadership gets this equilibrium. Blend seriousness with a sense of humor and humility to create a dynamic and thriving workplace that is ready to tackle the challenges of today and the future.

Ready to reach new heights as a leader?

Let's connect!

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