Leaders Never Stop Learning

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 By Ray Peters

Even with 40 years of professional/corporate experience, a master’s degree in leadership development, and two professional certifications, I continuously seek ways to continue self-education. As an instructor in leadership and occasional leadership consultant, I must remain professionally relevant. You see, the world is continually evolving and changing, and by not staying current with updated management and leadership practices, I would be ineffectual to both my students and clients. 

Most recently, I completed two significant developmental activities. The first is Leadership Lafourche, a leadership immersion program designed to train cross-sections of Lafourche residents for productive roles focusing on the future and well-being of Lafourche Parish and its associated institutions. The second is Ethical Leadership, presented through NASBA Center for the Public Trust. 

While Leadership Lafourche is typically a 9-month program, it was extended to twelve months because of COVID-19. Surprisingly for me, I was asked to be the featured speaker at our graduation ceremony. I looked upon the opportunity as something of a valedictorian address – something I never dreamed I would ever do. 

I started the body of my presentation by sharing three thoughts that I generally convey to my students at the beginning of each semester. (1) An organization can never be something the people are not. (2) Leadership is defined as the ability to make and sustain relationships and then influence through those relationships. (3) Leaders never stop learning. 

There it is – leaders never stop learning. No matter how good and capable we believe we are, there will always be opportunities to improve our knowledge, skills, and abilities. Only the naïve fail to recognize the need to continue learning and growing. Even the most successful people in business have professional coaches they can count on to help them identify competency gaps. Every successful athlete, after every game, watches film to identify areas where they need to improve. There is always something new to learn. 

I also mentioned my participation in an Ethical Leadership training program.  Ethics is a critical element of my leadership class. It is the prism through which leaders make decisions. According to the NASBA Center for the Public Trust, “ethical decision making is one of the most important components of sustainable business success.” The program is divided into three training modules: (1) Culture Matters: The value of an Ethical Culture. (2) Leadership Matters: The Need for Ethical Leaders Everywhere. (3) Strategy Matters: The Key Components of Ethical Business. (Participants are tested on all three modules.)

The most significant takeaway from this training focuses on organizations’ need to establish a functional code of conduct, an internal locus of control. As individuals, we develop our values from family, friends, schools, social organizations, church, etc. While personal character is important, everyone’s values are different, which leads to ethical diversity. We do not always share the same behavioral expectations, making it necessary for organizations to establish internal guideposts. The internal guidance becomes more critical when leaders are put in a position to make instant decisions.  

Lastly, I would be remiss by not sharing that I am continually reading new materials to gain even more leadership insight. As Harry S. Truman once said, “not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Because I require outside reading in my leadership class, I read what I am assigning to my students. Currently, I am reading The Inspirational Leader by Gifford Thomas. It is a condensed version of much of what I teach.

Having said all the above, the absolute best way to learn to lead is to start leading. Leading takes courage. Leading is experiential. Remember, you never learn to swim until you jump into the pool. You never learn to lead until you start leading. Just never stop learning. 

One more thing. If you really want to advance your knowledge, skills, and abilities, we (Nicholls State University) are currently recruiting for our next Executive MBA cohort. We anticipate starting the 18-month program, most probably in mid-spring. No GMAT is required. Visit nicholls.edu/mba for more information.

Ray Peters is MBA Director & Leadership Instructor at Nicholls State University. He can be reached at ray.peters@nicholls.edu.