Former American President Theodore Roosevelt died in his sleep in January 6, 1919. In his deathbed, he was found with a book tucked under his pillow. Even in the last moment of his life, TR remained faithful in learning. It was a life invested in pursuit of wisdom. Such an imagery shows an important lesson any leader must always abide: learning is a lifelong process.

Some leaders live under the delusion that once they’ve reached a position of leadership, they become unwilling to learn, especially from people who are below them, or even their equals. Worse, they sometimes refuse to learn from those who are ahead of them. What a waste. The biggest disservice a leader can do to himself is to put a lid on his leadership potential by smothering his learning opportunities.

Effective Leaders are Humble Learners

Two months ago I was in Hong Kong meeting a friend who happens to be a Christian Apologist. He’s above twenty years my senior and holds a very high position in a consulting company. He invited me to his church and as he sat next to me, he pulled out a notebook and a pen and began jotting down notes as the pastor delivers his message. “Incredible!” I thought to myself. Here you have a man who is saturated with God’s word, doing ministry in areas that borders the threat of life, working with extremely knowledgeable people, and yet as he sits down in church on a Sunday morning, he becomes a student.

I have to say that the first five minutes of us meeting together for coffee, the seniority has been immediately established. I am the learner, he is the teacher. I very rarely sit down to have coffee with really smart people, but when I do, I do my best to learn from them. These are golden moments. People who have different walks, yet when they speak, they’re full of wisdom from experiences that shaped them to who they are.

Many people miss that.

Many people miss the opportunity to learn. I remember another incident when I was talking to a person half my age. Kids are extremely susceptible to the allure of pride. So I asked this person one time, “you are good in your area of gifting. How do you keep yourself from being proud?” The answer was simple and profound. “I pray.” Two words, “I pray.” How wise. Here I am, going thirty this year, learning from a person half my age of such beautiful insight it may have taken me years to even think of such an answer much so to apply it.

I have a habit of asking people what are they learning. It’s not a judgmental question, but it goes two ways. One, to remind the person that I’m interested in his growth and two, to see if I can learn from them. Effective leaders are humble learners. There’s always a lesson behind every life experience. If we squander these, we do it to our own destruction.

Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding!
Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth.

“Do not forsake her, and she will guard you;
Love her, and she will watch over you.

“The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom;
And with all your acquiring, get understanding.

“Prize her, and she will exalt you;
She will honor you if you embrace her.
“She will place on your head a garland of grace;
She will present you with a crown of beauty.”

Proverbs 4:5-9 New American Standard Bible (NASB)


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