From Episodes 93 and 94 of The Complete Leader Podcast

As Eric Hoffer said, “In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future.”

You too can surf the waves of change—if you have developed continuous learning as a skill.

Before I wrote The Complete Leader with Randy Lisk, I didn’t have a good model to think about the skills necessary to being a good leader. I was simply focused on the day’s problems and trying to get through my to-do list to solve the most immediate issues. As a consequence, I depended much more on my instincts and intuition rather than my knowledge from learning continuously for a long time—and intuition is not always correct.

Once I started looking for opportunities to learn, I realized that learning is a life-long opportunity, challenge and responsibility. As leaders, continuous learning is an essential skill to consistently develop. Even in setting aside just a little bit of time each week, you are feeding your subconscious mind with all sorts of ideas that will come back to you in the most interesting ways to help you solve problems and take advantage of different opportunities.

Start thinking about learning with more intention, focus and strategy with these eight steps to create your own personal strategic learning plan. Once you’ve committed to learning continuously, you’ll be amazed how much you can grow as a person and a leader.

Identify your passions. What subjects or areas do you have a great interest in? This list will likely change and grow over time, but emotion is key in building and executing your strategic learning plan. Without passion, motivation will be hard to come by.

Envision your future. Create a mental picture of your life in 10 or 15 years. Where would you like to be in terms of your knowledge and expertise? How do you want to impact the people around you? Envisioning the possibilities of the future will help you to begin to lay the path forward.

Be consistent and persistent. You must set aside the time—no one else will make the commitment to learning for you. Be consistent in the time you set aside and be persistent in honoring that time. Don’t let other distractions or obligations intrude on your learning time. Tell those around you what you are doing and when so they know not to disturb you.

Act as if you are earning a new PhD every 3-5 years. Use this structure to give you a new approach to continuous learning: Study the thought leaders in your area of interest to develop a comprehensive understanding of the body of knowledge that already exists in that area. Then, add to that body of knowledge—this would be a PhD student’s dissertation. Finally, share your newfound knowledge with experts in the field. This practice can offer you structure and focus for your strategic learning plan.

Expand your learning methods. Finding new ways to learn will help you develop observation skills, improve your listening skills and allow you to find the learning method that works best for you. If you are an avid reader, try listening to lectures and podcasts, interviewing experts in your area of interest or putting your new skills to the test. If you are a listener, seek out books and articles.

Promote learning in your organization. Encourage those on your team to follow these same steps and develop their knowledge. The more people around you who are learning, the more resources you all have to develop your knowledge in various fields and to find opportunities or solutions for the problems you face as a team.

Practice what you preach. Now it is time to apply what you have learned. Learning is not a one-time activity, but something you will build upon year after year. Practice what you’ve learned in your area of interest so far, and continue building and applying your knowledge.

Take advantage of the resources on TheCompleteLeader.orgYou can continue learning and developing new leadership skills such as Continuous Learning with the many resources on the 27 leadership competencies including coaching guides, videos, articles and self-guided courses. With the new Progress Tracking and Rewards feature, you can also easily measure your growth with earned badges.

You have more time than you think for learning. And you can control how much you learn—but you have to make a commitment and follow through. Use these steps to develop your plan and review it regularly. You’ll soon have a vast body of knowledge to refer to, along with your intuition, when making leadership decisions.

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