Are You Overlooking a Hidden Goldmine of Learning Opportunities?
Accelerate your growth with these unconventional paths to leadership learning that go beyond books and courses
If you want to grow as a leader, you have to continually engage in learning.
Personally, I can say with conviction that being an active learner has been the primary driver of my success.
But there are times when you might not feel inclined to read another book, take another course, or even listen to another podcast – not even mine! (No offense taken!)
If you find yourself in that situation, here’s some good news:
“Learning” doesn’t have to mean reading, researching, or listening to an expert.
I don't want you to be constrained by such a narrow definition of learning. There are so many other ways to immerse yourself in situations that foster deep discovery and learning.
In fact, the best opportunities to learn often arise organically through new experiences, relationships, and more.
Today, I want to share three of those opportunities with you. Any ONE of these can bring you valuable insights that will enrich your life as a leader. So let’s jump right in!
1. Make a best practice visit.
A few years ago, I had the honor of interviewing golf legend Jack Nicklaus. During our conversation, he told me about a young kid from Louisville who came to his house seeking advice on playing at the Masters and how to prepare for it.
That young kid turned out to be none other than Justin Thomas, who is now recognized as one of the top golfers in the world.
And not too long ago, Justin was kind enough to sit down with me on my podcast, How Leaders Lead. (Catch the whole conversation here!)
In our conversation, I realized this visit with Jack wasn’t an isolated event. Justin makes a habit of seeking out knowledge from more experienced athletes, including Tiger Woods, Tom Brady, and Wayne Gretzky.
He knows what so many other great leaders know, too:
One of the best ways to learn is by going to the people who know more than you about a topic that’s important to you.
I've been doing these “best practice visits” throughout my career. My team and I regularly visited other companies that were excelling. We listened. We asked questions. And we learned what was working and what wasn’t.
These visits to observe and learn from successful practices generated great ideas for Yum! Brands. And they saved us a lot of time and headache because we knew what mistakes to avoid.
It takes true humility to acknowledge that someone else is the expert, not you. But when you approach others with a humble attitude and a genuine eagerness to learn, I’ve found people are remarkably open to sharing their knowledge and experience.
Try a “best practice visit” for yourself, even if it’s just as simple as inviting someone to coffee. You’ll be amazed at how enjoyable and enlightening it can be to learn from the wisdom and experiences of others.
2. Reflect on your past.
If you’re a regular listener to my podcast, How Leaders Lead, you’ve probably noticed that I ask almost every guest to tell me a story from their childhood that shaped who they are as a leader.
And there’s a good reason for that!
Our upbringing – the good, the bad, and everything in between – has a huge impact on us. It shapes who we are, what we value, what we’re good at, and where our blind spots are.
Some of the best lessons you can learn as a leader aren’t in a book or a podcast. They’re in your own history, waiting to be discovered and understood.
Strong leaders recognize this. They take the time to reflect on their past because it influences how they think and lead in the present.
One exercise I’ve done regularly for years is to sketch the arc of my life, noting all the crucial high points, low points, and important experiences. Next to each point, I make a note of what I’ve learned or how it’s impacted me.
For example, I was a trailer park kid who grew up all over the country. I had lived in 23 states by the time I was in 7th grade. And every time we moved to a new town, I had to walk into a new school and try to make friends.
Reflecting on this, I realized the most impactful moment in those situations was the first kid who was brave enough to say hi to me.
From those experiences, I learned that anybody who tries to make others feel more comfortable in a new setting is generally a good human being. And I try to be that person for others whenever possible.
For example, as the CEO of Yum! Brands, I worked hard to make frontline staff feel comfortable talking to me. That helped me discover so much about what was really going on in my restaurants.
Study your upbringing, almost like a historian would. Don’t get stuck in it, but spend time learning from it and understanding how it impacts who you are today. Then use what you learn to move forward in a better way.
3. Do something unfamiliar.
If you really want to ignite your learning potential, get out of your comfort zone and immerse yourself in an unfamiliar subject.
This helps with what scientists call “neuroplasticity” – your brain’s ability to forge new connections and think in different ways. You’ve got about 85 billion neurons up there in your noggin. And when you learn a new skill, you create new pathways between them.
So when you try a musical instrument, study a foreign language, or dive into a brand-new topic, your brain lights up as you activate new neural pathways.
For example, I’ve recently jumped head first into the world of country music songwriting! I’m learning from some top songwriters and honestly having the time of my life. My goal is to get one on the radio.
But regardless of the end product, I know I’m already benefiting because this new challenge is unlocking new pathways of thinking for me.
And that’s an incredible benefit, because leadership always requires us to be creative, adapt to new situations, and solve problems.
Think of something unrelated to your work that you’ve always been interested in, and start exploring. You’ll boost your brain power and bring new levels of problem-solving and creativity to everything else you do.
I absolutely love learning and believe it’s critical for any leader who wants long-term success.
And I believe learning is for everyone! There’s a wide world of discovery beyond the traditional avenues of books, classes, and the like.
You don’t have to watch Jeopardy! every night or be a bookworm to qualify as a “learner.”
The people we meet, the interests we have, and even our own history are all valid source material for active learners!
When you start to see the world that way, you realize we’re surrounded by insights and ideas.
They’re just waiting for you to uncover them and turn them into something that makes your life, your company, or even our world that much better.
What’s YOUR favorite way to learn? Drop me a comment and let ME learn from YOU!