3 ways to improve your ability to learn

A leader that stops learning has resigned from leadership.  The leaders that I admire the most are life long learners.  So that makes a couple of things true.  Leaders are readers.  Leaders are question askers.  Leaders seek others who have more knowledge than they do about a particular subject.

I had a fantastic chat with Dan Portnoy who is going to be the next guest on the Creative Leadership Podcast.  I've talked about Dan and his book multiple times since starting the blog and I'm thrilled he agreed to be interviewed.  I like to do a "get to know" conversation prior to the interview and I could of asked Dan questions all morning.  He blew me away with what he knows about telling a great story and how non-profits can do the same.

I've learned there are a couple of things I must do to improving my ability to learn:

1.  Look for wisdom - If we bunker ourselves in our office all day it's pretty hard to find thoughts of wisdom.  You have to go looking for it.  This is what first attracted me to Twitter.  I found people I admired sharing links to what they know or something they have learned.  It's great that I can send messages to friends but I am mainly on Twitter to learn.

2.  Ask for help - It's such a dangerous leadership mistake to assume you have all the answers.  I simply can't know everything.  And in reality, I barely know anything.  So l benefit greatly when I stop and ask for help and my team benefits as well!  I've never stopped asking questions nor have I ever been fearful of asking questions.  I once was used by upperclassman in a in a difficult micro economics class to ask any question they were embarrassed to ask.  I like to think of it as one of my "postures" in life, I like to lean forward.  Are you known as a question asker? (See what I did there?  And again..)

3.  Don't be afraid to approach those who know - This is something podcasting has taught me.  If someone has worked hard to educate the rest of us about a topic we shouldn't be afraid to approach them about learning more.  Depending on the source and the topic, they might or might not have the margin in their life to actually engage you.  But that shouldn't stop you from reaching out.  You never know what kind of extended learning you might get and the amazing conversations that could follow if you approached a person you respected as a credible source on a topic.

Learning is a practice as is leadership.  We don't always have to be the answer to the problem but we should be the ones leading the charge to new ideas through learning.  What have you discovered that helps you learn?  Is there anything else you would add to the list?  Please comment below!

Leading for us...

...(or two sentences from my dad taught me more about leadership than I’ve learned in some years) Guest Post by Daniel Cummings (bio below)

A few years ago my dad, who is the greatest leader I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, retired from a 50 year long career in public education. He did amazing things in his career, including being named the 2005 Missouri Superintendent of the year, having a district building named after him, and gathering more awards and honors than he can fit in his home office (I’m not kidding he had to choose which to hang and which to store). During his last few weeks our family had the honor of attending awards ceremonies and city and state proclamations, it was a true honor to see the outpouring of love for him.

The greatest memory I have, and the biggest lesson learned wasn’t during his awards speeches but in a quiet moment during a car ride when it was just the two of us. Leaving yet another ceremony in his honor, and getting into his car in front of a community center that he helped lead the charge to have built I asked a simple question, “what achievement are you most proud of in your career?” Was it the new state of the art high school he’d opened just that year? The very community center we were sitting in front of? Maybe one of the plaques that hung on his wall. His answer was surprising and a perfect summation of the leader he is. He simply said, “That first bond (tax increase for schools) issue we passed during my first full year as superintendent. I knew that things were going to change after that.” That victory, while it was a smaller one, spoke volumes about what he believed and I learned a few lessons in those two sentences.


  1. True leadership isn’t about me, it’s about us – Anytime my dad was given an award he always thanked the community, school board, and the staff of the school district and he meant it. He worked to make the lives of students better and provide meaningful interactions between schools and the community. He gave himself to the collective “we” of the district and worked to help make others successful.
  2. Success creates longevity- the average school superintendent has the job for 3 years, with all of its demands. My dad held the position for almost 15 in part by relishing is the success of the not only himself but the district and others. When a school did well, he celebrated with them. When an improvement issue was voted on and passed, he celebrated. When the transportation department had their yearly banquet you better believe he was there. When you celebrate other’s success you relive your own and gather, often, much needed encouragement to keep going.
  3. Values guide behavior – You can only fake it for so long, in the end what you truly want and believe guides what you do. In my dad’s case he was about creating the best environment possible for students to learn and grow. He understood that when schools grow, people grow, and communities grow. He dedicated his life to helping this happen and believed it at his core and it guided what he did.


I could write for days about the leadership lessons I’ve learned and continue to learn from my dad, as I gained these from one brief conversation. He inspires me to be a better leader and person and I hope what I have shared can do the same for you.

Daniel Cummings is a Brand Manager for Baldwin Denim in Kansas City.  Daniel's father, Tom Cummings, was the superintendent of the North Kansas City School District.  You can follow Daniel on Twitter.