Leaders are Learners (that’s why you want to read this article)

‘Doctrina Perpetua’

That was the motto of the university where I completed my undergraduate degree in marketing. I have never forgotten it because when I found out what it meant, it changed the way I live out my own leadership journey.

In case you don’t speak Latin, the translation of Doctrina Perpetua is “Forever Learning

I love this thought. That learning is not something we do, but something that we are doing. Always gaining new perspective, always asking questions, always looking for a way to grow bigger and better. Forever Learning.

I’ve served under a lot of great leaders over the years and had the privilege of being a part of the journey for others. In every leader I have served under or had the opportunity to develop I have never found a more attractive quality than a persons teachability. I genuinely believe that

your skills and ability are never as attractive as your teachability. 

Teachability means being big enough in our thinking to recognise that we have not arrived and humble enough to understand that we can learn from every person and experience.

Here are some of the ways that I’ve tried to ensure that I am forever learning:

1. Listening.

For me listening is the combination of listening to what is a.) being said b.) not being said. One of the great ways to learn about the culture of your organisation is to ask yourself two questions. 

  • What am I sick of hearing my leaders say? (chances are they are reinforcing it for a reason)
  • What would I never hear my leader say? (there’s a good reason why you haven’t heard it)

In every meeting, every hallway conversation, every presentation we need to have ears that are listening.

What was the last thing you listened to? What was being said? What was not? 

2. Experiencing.

Experience is one of the greatest educators. We learn by doing. Sometimes we learn how to do something right and see incredible results. Other times we learn something that we will never, ever do again. Either way we take away something from the experience. 

Great ideas and creativity are born from experiencing new things. The great Steve Jobs said that “Creativity is just connecting things“. When we get out and experience life we have more dots to connect. 

When was the last time you did something for the first time? What crazy activity can you do this week? 

3. Asking.

Great learners ask great questions. There is no shortage of answers available to us in an information saturated age. But to ask the right questions! That is an art of great leaders and coaches.

I remember hearing someone I greatly admire speak at a conference once. He is well known for his communication skills and shared how it is often the topic of conversation for many interviews and panels. He spoke about the importance for us to not just ask “What” someone does, but to ask “Why”. Looking beyond the surface level of skills or charisma and understanding the foundation helps us learn. I’ve found that great learners have an inquisitive nature. They are an investigator on a mission to answer the question “WHY”. Sometimes it’s just as simple as asking the second question.  

When was the last time you asked Why?  Challenge yourself to ask the second question. 

4. Reading.

There’s no question about it, leaders are readers. They read literature and people. 

I’m not great at reading, so for a long time I found it difficult to read books or literature. It took a long time before I had a shift in my thinking about this area. I may have hated reading, but I discovered that I loved learning. I started to see books not as a burden but as a pathway to learning. As I read more, I learned more and that sparked my desire for more.

It doesn’t just apply to literature but also to people. We read people through observation. I don’t need to live up close and personal to some of my greatest mentors because I can watch how they lead from a distance. I may not be able to see everything from a distance, but there is still much to be learned through observation. 

What was the last book or literature piece you read? If you struggle to read, what shift in thinking could help you start? Who are you watching from afar and what are you learning?  

5. Note-Taking.

This last one is simple but effective. Learners take note of what they learn. Write it down. You might have a super brain, but we all struggle to retain everything. That might be with a pen & paper or it could be electronic, either way it matters. Take time going over your notes from meetings, events, conferences or hallway conversations. Sometimes you take note of things for the season you are in and other times it’s for a season to come that you can draw from. 

What system are you using to take note of what you have learned? 


For those acronym lovers out there you may have already noticed that this spells LEARN. These are just 5 simple ways we can learn. Try just focusing on one for a week and take note of what you learn, I think you’ll surprise yourself.