Leadership and Learning are often mentioned in the same breath. Leaders are Learners, Leaders are Readers, Leadership and Learning are Indispensable to each other (JFK) and so on. What motivates us to learn though? Is it because we truly want to grow and be more effective for personal reasons or is it because we need to be seen as “The Leader” and to do so means we need to stay ahead of our followers.
Goal Orientation Theory proposes that we learn for learning’s sake or for performance reasons. If we engage in learning to look like we are competent we tend to only look for those opportunities that will reinforce this view of ourselves. Obviously the advantage is that we will gain a reputation for expertise in certain fields and even among certain colleagues. The obvious disadvantage is that we never place ourselves in positions where we may fail, look incompetent or be completely outside our comfort zone…thus avoiding a place that is ripe for learning. Seeking opportunities that extend our thinking and challenge our practice are more in line with a learning orientation; an orientation that will aid our growth as individuals…and possibly provide some great stories in years to come.
Leaders are required to appear at least vaguely competent and display a level of skill & knowledge that demonstrates a certain sophistication. The motivation to be solely performance oriented in our learning is a trap that can become too easy to fall into. To truly be in a position to lead, inspire and extend those who follow, requires that we too sit in a place where we are not the experts and risk being uncomfortable. Great leaders are those who seek to learn and recognize that this will involve a time of uncertainty. As Winston Churchill once commented “I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.”