Staying Mentally Fit
With the approach of a new school year, I wanted to explore the importance of continual learning in order to maintain your leadership edge. This is about sharpening the saw to stay mentally fit.
In Stephen Covey’s classic leadership book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, habit number seven is Sharpen the Saw. The analogy he describes is that of the woodcutter who is sawing for several days straight and becoming less and less productive. The process of cutting dulls the blade, and the solution is to periodically sharpen the saw.
In this particular habit, Covey discusses renewing the four dimensions of our nature that include, the physical, social/emotional, spiritual and mental. All of them are important, of course, but it is this last one where I want to focus.
Keeping mentally sharp means staying on top of not only important daily news and information, but also studying thought leaders on any subject relevant to your business in order to continue growing your leadership capacity.
Learning Should be a Way of Life
All too often people choose to stop investing the time and energy to further their learning once they’ve finished formal education. It’s as if now that they’ve acquired the degree and found a job, there is no longer the need to continue the process of learning. But learning should be a way of life not a goal one can expect to ever complete.
Successful leaders stay on top because they keep learning. This is an intentional act, which requires discipline, curiosity and the humility of the “beginner’s mind.”
What I’ve found in my study of leadership is that the best leaders are those who are driven to learn throughout their careers. This can be found in many ways, such as:
- Read lots of books. The best CEOs read on average four to five books a month while the average person reads only two to three each year. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Elon Musk, Mark Cuban are all voracious leaders who make time to read every day.
- Get training or coaching. There isn’t any leader who couldn’t become a better communicator, presenter, motivator or listener. Those who want to improve these and other skills are the ones who seek out training or coaching.
- Hold back opinions. When leaders have an idea before a meeting, the best are able to hold back on presenting them until everyone else has had a chance to weigh in. They are more interested in bringing the best ideas forward regardless of whether it is their own.
- Ask the right questions. In the course of trying to determine the right decision, it is not so much talking about the challenges and the opportunities as it is asking the right questions of the right people to learn how best to move forward. The best leaders recognize their role is asking the right questions at the right time.
- Listen really well. The best leaders don’t just ask the right questions, they also take the time to hear what is spoken and continue probing for what is not yet said. At a time when people are expected to get to the point quickly, sometimes simply asking “and what else?” can bring forth the most important things to consider.
- Remain open to new ideas. The older I get the more I realize how little I really know. There is an overwhelming amount of information out there and this requires a certain humility for continued intellectual growth. The best leaders are those who are open to what they do not know and remain curious to know more.
Learning began with your first breadth as a newborn and it should remain your mindset throughout life. This is because only through lifelong learning can you continually sharpen the saw to attain and keep your intellectual edge.