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Great Leaders Don’t Just Do More - They Learn More, and Teach More

We live in a culture of more-more-more. As a result, we often think we have to do more to be more, that our personal and professional development amount to an accumulation of experiences. The passive presumption, then, is that that experiences naturally bear the fruits of knowledge, or better yet, wisdom.

But, busyness breeds neither knowledge nor wisdom, and “activity without learning is merely a happening” (Myles Horton). Further, busyness can be isolating – even as we are working with others and serving on boards and are always around people, our relationships can become increasingly shallow. We are doing more and relating less.

So, if you are looking to get more meaning out of what you do, here is my first challenge: stop focusing on how much you do, and try and figure out how much you’ve learned.

Here is my second: find ways to share what you have learned so that what you do matters to the world.

Here are a few ways that I invest in figuring out what I have learned from my experiences, what I am continuing to learn from them, and how I can share some of that with others:

Set up interesting conversations with smart people who ask really good questions. I have had the extraordinary privilege of working with some brilliant minds and some deeply committed learners. I have learned more about myself and my work in coffee shops than in school or anywhere else. When I share my thoughts with others, I am forced to hear them and understand them differently. When I welcome their questions, challenges, and perspectives, I continue to evolve my learning from experiences – even those I may have had many years prior. This is the gift of critical friendship.

Write or draw or otherwise externalize your thinking. The process of writing, whether a private journal, a blog, or even a book is a great way of figuring out what you have learned, how you express it, and what questions you are still struggling with. There is something about the deliberate process of getting words out of your mind and onto paper or a screen or wherever that presents new opportunities for analysis. If writing isn’t your thing, consider a sketchpad to doodle and draw visual expressions of your thinking. The point is to get it out of your head and into a format you can observe more critically.

Sign up to teach something to somebody in a structured way. I believe at our best we are all teachers and learners and have the opportunity to be so in every interaction. But, there is something about the deliberate process of signing up to do a workshop on a topic, lead a lunch-and-learn, be a guest speaker or a guest writer that forces some clarity of thought – especially as we consider how others will receive our message. These sorts of activities force us not only to expose (to ourselves) what we think we have learned but also to package that to share with others – which, for me, is the ultimate point of learning. This process culminates then in the reflections and questions of an audience, which loops us back to the process and possibility of #1.

We can’t always do more, and doing more isn’t always a good idea. In fact, the cult of doing more often obscures the process of learning, which of course, limits the possibility of teaching.

Alternately, if we would all focus our energies on learning and then teaching from what we do, we could all do a lot more with our lives.


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