Self-directed learning is integral to leadership

By William Seidman

“I learn something new every day.” This statement succinctly expresses one of the more important but least explored aspects of great leadership. A great leader sees his job as learning about all the new things that hit him and the organization every day. He is consciously and systematically a self-directed learner and, as a leader, models learning for his organization.

Much has been written about the importance and value of having a learning organization, but little of this filtered into the literature on leadership or leadership development programs, even though it’s supported by MIT scientist and organization expert Peter Senge and others.

In a changing, fast-paced world, leaders who are good at learning and adjusting and are skilled at creating learning cultures tend to prosper while others stagnate and eventually fail. You can’t be a great leader without being a great learner and you can’t have a great organization without a culture that values active learning.

For many trainers and other practitioners of leadership development, the notion that the learning process and leadership are this tightly coupled is a novel idea. Yet self-directed learning and leading require many of the same attitudes and skills.

In self-directed learning, the learners are responsible for their own learning. They understand the learning purpose, adapt the learning strategy to maximize value and efficiently execute the learning strategy. They listen to others and reflect on the learning. They are accountable for the learning effectiveness and adept at scheduling.

Proactive leaders are responsible for learning new information as well. They understand the organizational purpose, adapt the organizational strategy to maximize value, and efficiently execute the organizational strategy. They listen to others and reflect on the learning. They are also accountable for organizational effectiveness and adept at setting schedules.

In these ways, self-directed learning is directly related to leadership. Self-directed learners stay ahead of the many pressures leaders face and model willingness to learn and embrace change for the entire organization. Great leaders are always self-directed learners.


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