The CEO as Constant Learner

Books maze images courtesy of Flickr user Groume

Books maze images courtesy of Flickr user Groume

The one thing I love about business is that every day you are confronted with new situations that require constantly innovative approaches. Best practice today becomes the price of admission in a few years. The rapid pace of change and lack of good CEO training in the U.S. (the premise of this blog) make it imperative that each CEO be personally responsible for seeking out and committing to professional development. Fortunately, great CEOs are great learners. They are constantly looking for ways to improve their performance by learning about new technologies, new market opportunities and new talented employees. The question for busy CEOs, then, is how to learn in the most time efficient manner possible.

The answer to this question depends not only on the individual but also their career stage and experience level in the CEO job. I think new CEOs and those preparing for the CEO role are often best served by finding a mentor or coach that they can work closely with, as David Brookmire recently discussed at length in a article: Are Leaders Born or Made? Similar to learning a new sport or other skill, a coach or mentor can get you started with a good foundation from which to build.

As the CEO gets more proficient, he or she may reach a point of diminishing returns with a particular coach and want to gain the perspective of specialists in particular areas by reading books and visiting with peers who are in similar companies. Eventually, as the CEO becomes more experienced, the opportunity to give back through writing and mentoring provides a way to continue to learn and refine his or her skills. I can tell you from personal experience that there is nothing better for pushing your limits than writing and sharing your thoughts with the CEO community.

A recent Forbes article addresses “The #1 Reason Leadership Development Fails” and does an excellent job of distinguishing between the drawbacks of subpar training and the benefits of development. However – like much advice to executives – the articles does not address how to take advantage of more development opportunities. While I wish there were better training opportunities out there for CEOs, at least training is a known quantity that people understand how to make use of today. Development is more nebulous, but you reap what you sow. Again, to be successful, CEOs must ensure their own continual on-the-job development.

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