Spring is in the air, the days are getting longer and the crocuses are poking up their hopeful heads. Yet, these remain bleak times for too many job seekers, even leaders and managers with impressive resumes. The reason? The demands of a collaboration-based, talent-hungry, global, wired economy are evolving so quickly that success depends on nothing less than continuous learning. Fall behind and you may find yourself disqualified from the race.
One senior innovation advisor at a major energy company put it this way, “In today’s economy there is no way anybody can be an expert in a substantial part of their total field. The modern ‘renaissance man (or woman)’ is one who understands how to learn.” This is huge and so important.
Companies of all sizes in all industries are trying to meet the new imperative. Learning and Development (L&D) spending was up 12 percent in 2013, the largest jump in almost a decade. The goal is to integrate learning into a company’s culture and processes. There are also training sessions, workshops, conferences, and retreats, but the most successful strategies are those that make learning a continuous process, hardwired into a company’s metabolism
For leaders this is both a daunting challenge and an exciting opportunity to engage and retain top talent. You have to keep your eye on the horizon, your ear to the ground and your nose in the wind. Your company’s needs are ever-changing, and you must stay one step ahead.
How? Start by understanding that change is happening at unprecedented rates, that new technologies can disrupt the best-laid plans, that competition is fierce. These days, laurels aren’t for resting on, they’re for leaping from. Complacency = Extinction.
Leadership by walking around may sound Paleolithic, but there’s no substitute for getting out into your organization and seeing how things actually work, talking to people, making sure you understand what everyone is doing. You’d be surprised how many leaders, even in this day and age, hide out in the executive suite. Not smart. Get out there and learn what’s happening.
Understand and master the borderless future world of work. Technology has rendered borders largely meaningless, not only between counties, but between companies and their stakeholders, including employees, partners, customers and at times even competitors. It’s a diverse, cross-cultural new paradigm with a flatter structure. Engage with all the new technologies and social media.
Talent is priceless. There’s a tremendous competition to hire the very best, especially people with superb and specialized technology and creative skills. Traditional career paths and job descriptions can turn these people off. Be flexible and work with talent to design jobs that allows them maximum freedom and productivity. If you don’t, they will likely move to a company that does.
Embrace emerging markets. There’s tremendous energy and excitement in India, China, Brazil and Eastern Europe. Make sure you understand these economies and are engaging them in every way possible. These days, we need them at least as much as they need us. Humility can be a great business tool.
The rules of leadership are ever-changing. Staying engaged, open-minded, technologically savvy, and embracing continuous learning, not only individually but as a core organizational imperative, are the hallmarks of 21st century leaders.
Make a list of everything that you’re doing to learn and develop. Be specific. Then examine the list for areas where you should be doing more. Take actions to up your proficiency in those areas.