Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.
Proverbs 1:5 NIV
If we are to lead others effectively, we need to be committed to be lifelong learners. When you limit your learning, you limit your growth in every area of life. But with so many avenues available for learning, leaders do not have the time to learn just for the sake of learning. Collecting random knowledge may allow you to beat the average person on Jeopardy, but it will not translate into seeing your unique God-given gifts emerge. Instead, the best leaders focus their learning on the things that set them apart.
I have had the opportunity to serve as an executive coach to a number of senior leaders in a number of different organizations. My goal was never to identify their weakest areas and turn them into strengths. If a visionary leader has a messy office, it is a waste of his or her time to focus their learning on how to excel at planning and organizing.
When weaknesses are so distracting that they threaten to derail a leader, they must be mitigated. However, it is a futile exercise to try to turn weaknesses into strengths. Instead, executive coaching is best focused on how a leader can take the strengths that have propelled them to success and develop, leverage and maximize those strengths.
Every leader has a unique gift or combination of gifts and, as the proverb reads, “a man’s gift makes room for him.” The Psalmist writes about God-honoring people; “they go from strength to strength.”
Proverbs 18:16 NKJV & Psalm 84:7 NIV
What unique gifts have opened doors in your career or ministry? What unique gifts have had the most positive impact in your interactions with others and your ability to make a difference in the world? Those are the gifts that you want to focus on developing. If you are going to invest time and energy in your growth in knowledge and wisdom, those should be the areas of your greatest focus.
A couple of years ago I had a chance to meet Maurkice Pouncey, the all-pro center for the Pittsburgh Steelers who attended the University of Florida where both of my daughters graduated. If Maurkice spent his off-season working on placekicking skills, it would be a waste! He needs to develop the skills that set him apart to best benefit his team.
My wife, Linda, and I recently spent a couple of weeks in New Zealand and Australia. For some strange reason, she picked up on driving on the left side of the road much more quickly than I. I couldn’t seem to get past turning on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal. Instead of spending the two weeks focusing on learning skills I would never use again, I just let her drive! She thought that decision was for the safety of the inhabitants of New Zealand and Australia but it was really about focused learning.
It is imperative that leaders be lifelong learners. It is just as important that our learning is focused on things that will develop our strengths. As you consider the formal and informal paths of learning that you will follow, make sure to invest in things that will enable you to make the biggest difference in your sphere of leadership.