Andy Falconer


When a leader stops learning, they should stop leading

11 Sep 2011 | 3 Comments |

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At my school we are launching our ‘Learn Something New’ scheme for both academic and support staff.  Staff have offered to run a variety of 3-4 week courses on something they are passionate about, for other staff to sign up to.  The courses include cooking tapas, researching your family tree, golf, and ballroom dancing. Staff can also receive some funding towards something new they wish to learn outside of school. Why are we doing this? Because you will be a better teacher and a more enriched adult if you can remember what it is to be a learner.  Twelve months ago I decided to lead by example and took up the drums, having never played a musical instrument before. I sit my Grade 1 exam at Christmas!


As leaders of our organisations we have a duty to ensure that we both lead by example so that everyone knows they are involved in a corporate culture which values learning and improvement, as well as ensuring that we personally are continually developing our leadership skills and knowledge.


This summer I went to the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit in Chicago, where I spent two days with 4,000 other people listening to some amazing people from all sorts of walks of life. “When a leader stops learning, they should stop leading” was a quote from Bill Hybels, who was leading the conference.


So my question to you is, what do you do to keep learning?

  • Tracy Playle

    I started my own company 4 years ago having worked in a university for 5 years before that. While there I had unlimited learning opportunities (not least from the academics with whom I worked). Learning accounts, training opportunities, being sent to conferences all over the place… it was incredible. Then, starting my own company suddenly I had to fund it all for myself. So I had to develop a very very new (cost-effective) approach. For me, that’s where social media comes into play. I have custom columns set up on Tweetdeck so that learning becomes a continuous process for me throughout the day. I have Flipboard set up on my iPad so I can read and learn in bite-size chunks while on the move, and I constantly ask questions and engage in discussions to learn (and help others learn). I know just about every trick in the book now to maximise learning for free using a variety of online and mobile tools and techniques. Fortunately I also now speak at a lot of conferences, and I love listening to people, so even when I’m speaking I always try to make sure I learn something new from the audience, and in my personal life I surround myself by people who challenge and stimulate my thinking. My motto these days is that my measure of success is not how much I earn, but how much I learn. How can it be anything else when I work in the education sector and love learning as much as I do?

  • Alex L Willmott

    I try and focus on what Jesus says about leading as a slave in Matthew 20: 24-28. Human knowledge on this issue is worthless. Though we try and lead as best we can, the ultimate act of wisdom for a leader is to deny himself, think less of himself, point to Jesus. And in esteeming those around him as higher than himself, he will be following Jesus.

  • Anthony Robinson

    Great message from Andy about “Keep Learning”: (presumably there is still a sound proofed room available in the school for percussionists!)

    Whilst learning new things as an established leader, I would suggest two things: Firstly the secret is to remain flexible and pragmatic. Secondly, the trick is not to learn something without becoming enslaved to it and throwing everything else out of your mind. That way lies an erratic path through life.
    I have spent the last few months trying to balance modern and ‘viral’ business start-up issues with traditional and successful leadership strategy practices. Applying strategy to a completely new business environment has been a useful learning experience. One’s own (brilliant) strategy ideas have to be adjusted to fit the board or planning group of the moment. Sometimes this is a cultural aspect where the difference is not all about the business but about the individuals one is trying to persuade. Sometimes it is about the attempted marriage of business reality with conceptual visions.
    For the training and academic world, the challenge is in introducing new things to teacher and pupil in a way that allows to join seamlessly (rather than contradicting it) with what has been learnt before.

    To finish with a link to the St Olaves/ St Peters School motto of “Super Antiquas Vias” – ‘Over Old/ancient Ways’ must surely imply that there are new things to be applied by leaders. The leaders can infer that the ‘Antiquas’ must not be ejected with the old ‘Aqua’ when taking one’s monthly bath.