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Learning is the most valuable leadership skill of all

Brad Wayland, chief strategy officer at BlueCotton


What makes someone a great leader? It’s not charisma. The true foundation - the thing that really makes you stand out is humility. A willingness to acknowledge that you don’t know everything, and a passion for learning.


“A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” 


It’s been a few centuries since William Shakespeare penned those words, but they’re still relevant. I don’t doubt that if you’re in a leadership role, you’re good at what you do. Maybe one of the best. 


I also don’t doubt that you’re charismatic. That you understand how to teach, motivate, and inspire. I can also say beyond any shadow of a doubt that all of those skills and all of those capabilities are meaningless if you aren’t constantly striving to improve.


It doesn’t matter how good a leader you are on paper if you don’t constantly seek to learn.


There are a few reasons for this. First, we live in an era of rapid change, where entire industries can undergo foundational disruptions overnight. As a leader, you cannot simply kick back and hope your established way of doing things can carry you through these changes. 


“To find their way in societal shifts, leaders cannot rely on static maps, nor can they hope to manage complexity through fixating on the details,” reads a piece in The Harvard Business Review. “To do so would be to fall into the trap described by Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares in their 1946 short story ‘On Exactitude in Science,’ in which empire cartographers draw up a map so detailed – the scale is a mile to a mile – that it ends up covering the whole territory and leads to the downfall of the empire.” 


In short, you need to be capable of readjusting and rethinking how you approach your career and your industry. In order to do that, you need to be willing to seek, absorb, and understand new ideas and concepts. 


Business agility is not the only reason self-improvement is a cornerstone of leadership. The best leaders understand that they are not perfect. They don’t let that discourage them, however.


Instead, they constantly strive to be smarter, more focused, and more capable than they were the day before. They continually look for ways to apply newfound knowledge to be better at what they do. 


It’s an attitude that inspires confidence and gives you the ability to constantly brainstorm fresh ideas. It also makes you more visible in your field and gives you the opportunity to develop your career in unexpected ways. 


So how exactly can you be a continual learner? 


Simply put, by looking for knowledge everywhere: Blog posts and articles written by thought leaders or white papers relevant to your field. Attend conferences, collaborate with colleagues, and participate in Q&A sessions. Listen to podcasts and enrol in courses to teach you new skills. 


Treat every day as a new opportunity to improve, and you might be surprised at the results you begin to see. 


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