The best leaders are the best learners. They have a growth mindset. They believe they are capable of learning and developing throughout their lives. Continuous learning is a way of life, so you are never done learning and never done getting better.” – James Kouzes and Barry Posner.
The best leaders are the best learners. They recognize that learning is a never ending journey and that they can never claim to know everything about any subject matter. Like professors and researchers, discovery does not come to an end. The dynamics of leadership, changes in roles, responsibilities and teams imply that leaders always have to learn new things and new ways of doing things. Leaders know that they have to improve daily to cope with the radical changes of the business environment. At the top executive level also known as the C-suite, learning is imperative so that leaders can stay ahead of the curve. This article prescribes five ways to enhance leadership in the C-suite.
The day to day activities of running any organization reduce the time for top executives to learn through reflection. Some people call it looking at yourself in the mirror to identify both defects and whatever looks good. Without reflection, leaders are unable to see the person in the mirror and make appropriate adjustments to their conduct. Reflection is also valuable in helping leaders be more proactive and less reactive in future situations. Leaders also face a variety of crises in the course of holding their responsibilities. These include isolation, conflicts, reduced confidence, inner fears, and loss of focus. Reflection empowers the leader to step away from the noise into the silence to think and navigate new pathways.
One of the tools that a leader can use to enhance reflection is feedback. Of course, feedback is not always easy to mentally absorb especially if strongly held mind sets get in the way. Yet, it is important for leaders to receive feedback to as a platform for improving how they relate with their constituents. While feedback may not be deemed positive, it can actually serve as a powerful trigger of personal growth. Some leaders also act like they know it all and reject both subtle and obvious feedback from those they relate with. Organizations as a matter of practice should include 360-degree feedback in the evaluation of executive performance. The feedback should be used to focus on leadership development.
Blending Three Qs.
In the past two decades, the awareness of emotional intelligence as an essential leadership skill has increased. There has been a shift from simply acknowledging normal intelligence (measured by IQ) to recognizing the benefits of emotional intelligence which is measured by EQ. Research suggests that leaders who have a higher level of emotional intelligence tend to achieve greater success. More recently, organizational thinkers and psychologists have unveiled political savvy or political quotient as an additional requirement for corporate leadership. This adds a third Q, the PQ although the research evidence of this is still rudimentary. In transiting to and acting at the executive level, these three Qs need to be well blended to lead effectively. Not having enough PQ can stall progress because of an assumption that results of the past are sufficient to get to the next level.
Learning is sometimes thought about narrowly as what we do when we sit in a classroom or for C-suite executives, attend an executive programme. This misconception should be altered to make learning more deliberate and frequent than periodic. Top leaders should lead the way in learning and being life-long learners. C-suite leaders require specific methods of learning beyond merely attending classroom-based instructional events. Apart from feedback and reflection, learning requires an intentional focus that empowers leaders to change themselves and their organizations for the better. Leadership experts, James Kouzes and Barry Posner in their book, “Learning to Lead” demonstrate that individuals can learn to be better leaders in five ways: believe in yourself, aspire to be great, challenge yourself to grow, engage the support of others and practice deliberately.
Listening is not a strong point for many individuals in a world where everybody wants to be heard or even overheard. In the C-suite, listening takes on additional relevance because the executive leader will hear voices – the well-intentioned, the sycophants, the deceivers, the friends, the opposers, the confused and many others. Active listening enables sifting through what is said and sensing what is not said; separating the logical from the emotional. It also entails listening to one’s inner voice or what is sometimes referred to as intuition. The inability of many leaders in the C-suite to listen has led to the end of their careers and sometimes the collapse of entire businesses. Listening requires attention and a combination of skills such as questioning (mostly with open questions), paraphrasing, summarizing, taking notes, nodding, and making eye contact with the person who is talking.
To enhance leadership capacity in the C-suite, leaders should reflect, obtain feedback, learn intentionally, blend different intelligences and listen attentively.