October 17, 2023
As I reflect on my second MOR Leaders Program (my first one having been completed in 2008), I cannot help but be surprised by just how much more I realize I can learn. The simple truth is that leaders are never truly "done" learning because the leadership landscape is dynamic and multifaceted. Successful leaders recognize the importance of continuous self-improvement and adaptability in their leadership journey. They embrace learning as a lifelong commitment that enables them to remain effective and relevant in their roles.
The lessons of MOR are numerous, from “First Impressions” to “Getting on the Balcony” to “Leading, Managing, Doing” to “The Four I’s of Relationships.” But perhaps the most important thing I learned (and continue to learn) from MOR is that we never stop learning. Yeah, there are deliberate learning endeavors like the MOR Advanced Leaders Program (ALP). And there are less deliberate, but equally important, learning opportunities as well. These are three of my, perhaps less than intuitively obvious, favorites:
(1) Learning by Counterexample
People often talk about “leading by example” and, thus, learning by example. The concept is simple enough: Mimic the traits of those leaders who you find most effective, inspirational, and, well, leaderly—accountable, authentic, courageous, decisive, empathetic, honest, humble, innovative, self-aware, and strategic. We observe them, learn from them, and imitate them. But what about poor leaders? Who hasn’t had a bad, or even horrific, boss? Sure, you could run far and fast, but why not take the opportunity to learn from them as well? Learning by counterexample is not only an amazingly intuitive way to learn; it is also amazingly empowering and liberating to know that we can take control and derive something positive and powerful out of something seemingly negative.
(2) Learning From (Other People’s) Failures
It has been said, and shown, that we learn far more from failure than we do from success. Success is easy to take for granted. But failure is painfully memorable. And pain has its value. “No pain, no gain.” Thus, failure is not the end, but a stepping stone towards growth and success. It is through learning from failure that one can become more resilient, capable, and better prepared for future challenges and opportunities. However, the real sweet spot is being attentive and deliberate enough to learn from other people’s failures—to turn their pain into our gain. This is what good mentors do, by the way; they share their failures in a way that helps others appreciate, and learn from, them.
(3) Learning to Serve
Classic business wisdom proclaims that there are leaders and followers. But that was when leading was about giving orders. Now leading is about collaborating. It’s about serving. So, while a follower is someone who supports and follows the lead of a leader, a servant empowers others to achieve their best. In essence, the followers, or servants, have become the real leaders. They’ve become the influencers and the ones genuinely concerned with creating higher employee morale, engagement, and organizational success. They lead by serving others, and ultimately developing others into leaders, who in turn do the same. I love this because it reminds me of Duquesne University’s stated mission: To serve students, so they can, in turn, serve others. Learning to become a servant leader involves a combination of self-awareness, education, practice, and ongoing reflection. It's a journey that requires ongoing commitment to others and plenty of practice, but, when done well, it is the path to the strongest team imaginable.
I hope that sharing these learning opportunities will somehow supplement the incredibly empowering lessons being conveyed by the MOR ALP. May we all continue to learn by counterexample, by each other’s’ failures, and by helping each other!