I’ve had the title for this post bouncing around in my mind for quite some time now, but two recent, (previously) unconnected sources of inspiration prompted me to write more about it.
The first was my reflections on an event we’ve launched as part of our evolving strategy at my company, Tagoras. The Leading Learning Symposium is an effort to bring together leaders from across the business of continuing education and professional development but focused, at least for the time being, primarily on individuals working in trade and professional associations. There were a number of reasons we launched the event – all related to the title of this post.
One of the big ones was a desire to “walk the walk.” My partner and I routinely advise organizations on ways to grow and improve their education businesses, and that advice nearly always involves a certain amount of risk. I’ve never liked the idea of giving advice about things with which I have no experience myself, and the symposium represented a way to add substantially to my experience. To try some of the things – from both a learning and a business perspective – that we encourage our clients to try. To lead the way, at least in some small way.
While I count the event as a success, it would be an enormous understatement to say that we learned a lot – mostly through making many mistakes – and that we still have a lot to learn. We will build on what we have started, and our hope is that perhaps we have help inspire some of the participants to forge new paths in their work.
The participants were the other big reason – really, the primary reason – for launching the event. We have found again and again over the years that the people leading professional development businesses often have relatively few formal opportunities for professional development themselves. Certainly, we were not aware of a forum where association leaders could focus specifically on lifelong learning as a business.
Naturally, a formal learning event is hardly the only way to learn. Even so, it can be an important part of an overall process, which is what we consider Leading Learning to be – a process and a community much more than a time-constrained event. And, certainly people whose day-to-day job it is to engage others in learning – events, process, community – should be engaged in it themselves. We need to be the learners we expect our learners to be.
Mikkelsen and Jarche suggest that “leaders must get comfortable with living in a state of continually becoming” – which is to say in a state of continually learning – and they outline an approach to pursuing this goal. For those of us whose business is creating learning opportunities for others, this is a particularly important perspective, and one that is at the core of Leading the Learning Revolution. If we expect others to embrace the idea that continual learning is critical to thriving in today’s world – both for ourselves and for our organizations – then we must embody that idea.
We must make participation in learning activities, both formal and informal, a priority. Indeed, we must make it a habit woven into the fabric of our lives.
We must put in the time and effort, take risks, fail, reflect, share our experiences, and continue onward.
We must fully engage in the way that we hope those we lead will engage.
We must, in short, be avatars – individuals who manifest the idea of learning and embody the ideal of “living in a state of continually becoming.”
There is no denying that this is difficult work. But it strikes me more and more as the essential work of leaders.