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Leader As Student

Last week, I shared with you the traits of the leader as teacher. This week we’ll examine the leader as a student.

When our daughters left to go to college, my husband would write them a letter to guide their journey as a student. As I look back at these letters, I find they are filled with useful advice, well beyond the college years.

Leaders, take note:

  1. Show Up For Class – At school, 90% of your success is showing up. If you go to class, take notes and participate, you will be unlikely to fail. The same is true for leaders. Come to your work each day with your mind ready to learn something. Participate in the work. Write down your observations. Aim to improve based on the experience of this day. A mind that comes to work ready to learn something is seldom disappointed.
  2. Know Your Teachers – College professors have office hours. If you go to office hours, it’s another opportunity to learn. Likewise, you have many teachers at work. Get to know the people at work with experience. Go to these ‘teachers’ and ask them to help you understand how to approach a project. Ask for perspective on how to handle a difficult situation. Honor them with your interest in learning from their experience.
  3. Read Your Books – Most of the substance of school learning is explained in the books. If you skim them or ignore them, you likely miss most of the lessons. At work, reading is about getting prepared for the jobs you are asked to do. You read to build your skills, to gain new insight on the topic, and to help find an effective approach to your work. Reading grows your capability as a leader.
  4. Join A Study Group – In many school classes, you have team assignments where you work with others to learn the material. In this process, you learn from others. As a leader at work, you can also have a study group. You can assemble a group of people that know things that you don’t. You can collaborate with them to come up with better answers on your projects. You can reach a better solution by accessing the broader talents of the team. Teams improve outcomes.
  5. Pass Te Test – If you went to class, knew the teachers, read the books, and had a study group, you would probably pass the tests at school. But you still had to review and study the night before so that the material would be fresh in your mind and you would be ready to answer the questions swiftly. As leaders, we also face tests in the workplace, and they are usually unannounced quizzes. Tests at work can be stressful events where the leaders’ true colors are revealed. Prepared leaders pass these tests, even under stress.
  6. Track Your Grades – Grades don’t measure everything you learn, but they are an indication of your command of the subject matter. If there were no grades, no measure of what you learned, you might be tempted to learn less. As a leader, your performance results are essentially your grades. And like grades, your results don’t always demonstrate your full capability, but they serve as feedback and they challenge you to find a way to perform better the next time. View performance feedback as a mid-term grade, and strive to improve for the final.
  7. Your Attitude Is Your Altitude – My letter to our daughters always included this maxim. Like all of life, your attitude towards learning determines the outcome. The curious, open-minded student that knows they do not know everything yet, is likely to learn something new today.

To sum up, leaders are teachers to be sure, but they are also students. The leaders who are always seeking to learn from others are most likely to continuously improve themselves and their performance. 

Be a great student and you will likely be a great leader.

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