Leaders are Responsible for their Learning

When I run seminars on leadership, I often share the lessons learnt from the work Kouzes and Posner did to create their book “The Leadership Challenge”.  They identified the 4 most important characteristics of a leader that gets the greatest discretionary effort out of the people around them.

Number 2 on this list is “Competence”.  (You can find the full list on a past blog post here)

Identifying Competence

How do you know if someone is competent?  The simple answer: they have books on their desk.

The proxy for Competence is whether you have books on your desk.  If you care about being competent, you will be competent.  If you don’t take care of your learning, if you don’t have a plan for your own development needs – you might accidentally be competent now, but with the changes in the environment you will rapidly lose that competence.

Here’s a recent interview at UCD Smurfit Executive Development where I talk about the need for leaders to take charge of their personal and professional development.

What are the next development steps you will be taking for your own competence?

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4 Comments

  1. I love your blog and I agree with most concepts but not with this: “How do you know if someone is competent? The simple answer: they have books on their desk.” – I know people with stacks of books that they never read. Some of the most avid readers I know actually carry a kindle wherever they go, they read articles on their phone during their commute, they listen to audiobooks… I also know people who don’t have a huge reading habit but still have a great learning ethos: they constantly get their learning from videos (TED talks are a great example) and podcasts… learning and self-development does not need to be represented by visual symbols. In the end, competence is demonstrated in how we do what we do ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    1. I’ve had quite a few strong reactions to this statement. Some have been “so I should just buy a bunch of books and put them on my desk” – this is not my intention. Curiousity, interest, openness, desire to connect, desire to grow are what we are really looking for.

      It is not the only way of learning, but it is a proxy. The question is how to see others who are likely to be good leaders… one positive indicator is curiousity, learning, openness… and books are a proxy to this. Piles of DVDs and lots of watching of TED talks, lots of attending training (that they themselves have chosen, booked and paid for)… would also be good indicators.

      Thanks for the comment! Debate helps me grow 😉

    1. It is important to make sure you are remaining competent… often the world changes faster than we do… and you can become incompetent without realising it.

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