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Creating Successful Leaders

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What do many effective leaders have in common? They believe in continual learning and development. Big-name CEOs like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are avid readers who are constantly gobbling up books. Former president John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” And the legendary Henry Ford believed that, “Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”

Strong leaders are avid, continual learners. They don’t stop seeking new opportunities after they’ve graduated or once they’ve landed a job; they treat every day as another chance to acquire knowledge and skills.

Why is lifelong learning so essential for leadership? How does curiosity and exploration build character, aid in personal development, and position you as a leader? Here are four ways:

1. Continuous Learning Makes You Adaptable

Today, the workplace landscape is shifting and evolving at a lightning-fast pace. We never know what tomorrow will bring and how our team will react. Therefore, effective leaders must be highly adaptable, quick on their feet, and innovative.

To remain relevant, leaders must endeavor to continually learn. New challenges are best faced if the leader is willing to gain new knowledge and adapt/adjust their thinking. There’s a reason medical doctors are required to continue their specialized education long after they graduate from medical school. Could you imagine going to a surgeon who was using standard practices from the 1940s?

The same is true in any office setting. Standards change; innovations occur. Capable leaders stay on top of those changes, adapt, and guide others to adapt as well.

2. Well-Rounded People Make the Best Leaders

To become well-rounded, you, as a leader, need to learn a wide array of subjects, disciplines, and areas of expertise. You don’t need to be an expert in everything, but it’s important to have a working knowledge of the world outside your niche, as it broadens your perspective, helps you understand others’ viewpoints, and gives you foundational knowledge in unfamiliar areas. Dare to step outside your comfort zone. Read history or philosophy if you’ve always been a numbers person. Take public speaking classes if you’re shy (Toastmasters is a great club for this). Learn a language. Focus on areas you’ve told yourself that you’re bad at, and give it another go. You may surprise yourself.

3. Learning Helps You Problem-Solve

If you’re constantly making an effort to learn new systems, programs, ways of thinking, etc., you’ll be more creative and mentally nimble when it comes to problem-solving. If you train your brain to perform many different tasks (no matter what they are), you’re enabling yourself for outside-the-box thinking.

4. Your Actions Will Encourage Others to Keep Learning

As a leader, you set the standards. Your pursuit of innovation and discovery will encourage your team to also prioritize continual learning. Demonstrate that you’re willing to dive into uncharted territory, get your hands dirty, and make mistakes. Your example will help develop a team that is willing to get creative, take a few risks, and figure out innovative ways to overcome obstacles.

How will you commit to continual learning? What will you do this week to help expand your horizons or learn a new skill? Start today!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 

Her new eBook is called A Quick Guide to Courage
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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That old saying “no man is an island” still rings true today. We are all connected with others in myriad ways, and we all depend on a large network of people to do our work, enjoy life, and, frankly, to survive. The CEO of a company might receive most of the fame and recognition, but that person’s success is intrinsically linked to others—their mid-level managers, the company custodians, the IT support team, the customers who believed in the company and its offerings.

This interconnectedness extends to our personal lives as well. We rely on the farmer to harvest food, the construction crew to repair our roads, the teacher to educate our children. I often see this community and interconnectedness at play with my grandson. He and his parents rely on care from a network of people. It truly “takes a village” to raise a child.

It’s hard to overemphasize the importance of community.

A strong community offers support, resources, and guidance. It not only provides us with necessities, but uplifts us and motivates us to keep going.

Today, we might find a sense of community and belonging in a variety of places—through work, family, online forums, volunteering. However, while it’s possible to be more interconnected than ever before, people are now lonelier and more depressed than ever. In the U.S., loneliness has been steadily increasing since 2015 (especially among younger generations), and that trend has been noted across the globe, as well.

Why is that? Why is our highly networked world lonely?

From my observations and research, I believe this has to do with the quality of our connections, rather than the quantity. One of your Twitters posts might be liked by 5,000 people, but do you really know any of them? You might engage in a webinar with 200 other individuals, but are you really talking to each other and getting to know one another on a deeper level?

At this point, you may be wondering, “So what? Why does it matter if people are lonely?”

Aside from the mental and emotion toll loneliness can cause, it has been linked to many physical side effects such as an “increased risk of mental health issues, heart disease and even death.” The Campaign to End Loneliness reports that, “Research shows that the impact of poor social relationships on mortality is comparable to the impact of smoking 15 cigarettes a day and consuming alcohol, and exceeds the impact of physical activity and obesity. Lonely individuals are at higher risk of hypertension, poor sleep, and the onset of disability.

So, what do we do?

I challenge you to seek out meaningful, real-world connections. Get to know your neighbors, host a barbeque, volunteer in your community, join an in-person networking or hobby group. If you are already connected with a number of other people, I challenge you to strengthen those connections by making an effort to be in touch, sending the occasional greeting card, or arranging a lunch or coffee date. You can also go the extra mile by reaching out to those who you suspect to be socially isolated (elderly friends, those who have limited access to reliable transportation, new parents!) and offer your support.

Community is created through conscious connections, not just through liking someone’s social media post in passing. It’s made by asking others about themselves and reciprocating by opening up and being a little vulnerable. Let’s dare to strike up conversations and make connections! Let’s strive to consciously foster community.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 

Her new eBook is called A Quick Guide to Courage
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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In this big, complicated world, it’s easy to feel small and insignificant. Right now, we’re in the midst of global turmoil, political divisions, and environmental uncertainty. Everything seems tense, complex and, frankly, overwhelming. And we don’t necessarily need a war or a pandemic to feel this way. It’s certainly possible to feel overwhelmed and anxious in the face of a large, complicated work project or a major life change.

What can you do when you’re feeling small and helpless?

I encourage you to focus on mini action-steps and tiny progressions. Small steps can and DO make a big difference. Fundraisers often rely on grassroots donations of $15 or $25. Pollution can be cut significantly by reducing single-use plastics or switching to more sustainable modes of transportation. A few kind words or a helping hand can make an enormous difference to someone who’s struggling.

Thinking about this from a work angle, small action steps are essential to completing large projects. A 50-page report is written one word at a time. A sales goal is achieved one buyer at a time. When you’re staring down a big project, try reframing it.

Here are a few steps to try:

  • Break the project down into smaller components
  • Create a project calendar with deadlines for the smaller pieces
  • If you’re working with others, figure out the best way to divide the work and monitor your collective progress
  • Identify small tasks you can do NOW
  • If possible, delegate or automate parts of the process

We’ve established that small action steps can eventually lead to the completion of large, daunting projects, but that’s not all they can do. Small actions can also provide some much-needed motivation. If, for instance, you’re feeling disheartened by your ever-growing to-do list, try finding the easiest item on the list and doing it NOW.

It’s best if the item only takes a few minutes to complete—answering an email you’ve been putting off, cleaning out a certain file folder, tidying your office for an afternoon Zoom meeting. The act of accomplishing something (no matter how small!) will give you a jolt of motivation and will probably inspire you to keep going. You’ll get to cross something off your to-do list and have a small sense of accomplishment.

Though it’s easy to feel helpless and small at times, know that your actions do make a difference. Every significant thing on earth—from ocean beaches to the first airplane—is the result of smaller components and/or action steps.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE. 

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