The Entrepreneurial Journey: How to Keep Learning as a Leader
Sometimes learning means unlearning, especially when it comes to building a growing enterprise.
In my company’s 12-year history, reaching a certain level of success hasn’t come without scrapping old processes and building new ones at the right times. To support the growth of our business, it’s been critical for us to recognize not only when processes can be improved, but when they’re no longer relevant at all.
Employees are your allies in this. They want to participate in a learning culture that helps develop better skills, for themselves and for the future of the organization. The Global Talent Trends 2019 report from Mercer shows 83% of employees consider it their responsibility to keep their skills up to date.
But business leaders aren’t expected to learn; they’re expected to know, which makes the learning culture of a founder and CEO a bit different. I’ve found my learning process often takes me back to what feels like square one, and it tends to come with a familiar question: “Didn’t I already figure this out?”
The answer is typically, “I have, and I will again.” Processes change over time, as do businesses. That’s why in order to foster a learning culture for your workforce, you need to build one for yourself as a leader first. Wondering how to start? Here are a few ideas:
1. Maintain your values—and pass them on
In the early days of a company, you might notice a more organic approach to collaboration and fluidity in roles and processes, as your team is likely a small group of people (some of whom might have known one another for years). As a company grows and matures, however, that environment naturally formalizes, and key functions need to evolve into specialized roles, which requires a more deliberate approach to collaboration and teamwork. You need to evolve from being the person doing the tasks to a role of facilitating others, trusting the expertise you’ve hired while remembering the core values of your organization. Pass those values on, and take that opportunity to reinforce them for yourself as well.
2. Make learning a habit
Whether you’re reading, watching a webinar or attending a lunch-and-learn, legitimize these learning opportunities by scheduling them in ink. As you get busier, it’ll be more tempting to brush these things off, but you mustn’t give in. Even if your entrepreneurial journey hasn’t kicked you back to square one yet, it will eventually. Get ahead of the challenges now by acquiring new skills and knowledge to take you through those transitions. Better yet, when you come across something particularly insightful, find an efficient way to share it with your team, perhaps in a monthly email or video—just make sure it displays creativity and thought.
3. Surround yourself with diverse opinions, good sounding boards, and no echo chambers
There are a variety of ways to begin networking, and depending on your industry and environment, you might find it helpful to ask a professional for guidance. But it’s also wise to curate your own group of trusted advisors who can help evaluate your thinking as your business scales. Those who have gone through this before can see repeating patterns and help accelerate learning for you.
4. Ask your employees to teach you something
This is your team. On a regular basis, find a way to better understand what they’re doing in their day-to-day work. You can do this by stopping by their desks to learn a specific task or engaging in a casual conversation in the hall about a recent project they completed. You’ll learn something new, and your employees will learn you care.
Ultimately, make sure you feel confident as to when to press the reset button. One of the key responsibilities as CEO is to be the visionary who sees past the next hill and charts a course for what’s ahead. An entrepreneur’s learning structure can act as an early identification system for all kinds of changes that await at the next stage of growth.
When you have to go back to square one, do it with a plan.
This article originally appeared in Forbes. View it here.