Byron's Babbles

What Inspires You?

Yesterday I had a person ask me, “Byron, how do I deal with the person who does not want to learn or go through any professional growth experiences?” She went on to explain this was an experienced leader who believes she has seen it all. I explained that was a tough one. I have experienced these type of individuals. The type who say, “When you’ve been around as long as I have you’ve seen it all and know how to deal with…” Really, seen it all? I think not! Amazing!

In all honesty, I’m not sure there is a lot you can do with a person with that disposition. I say disposition because while I do believe leaders can be developed and don’t have to be born automatically a leader, I do believe that there are certain dispositions you must possess to be a great leader. One of those is a propensity to be a lifelong learner. I actually just blogged about lifelong learning this week in Lifelong Learning: The Farm Way.

So what was my advice? To have the tough conversation about the fact that all leaders need to continue to learn and find inspiration. I am a huge believer that those we serve as leaders need to see us learning and taking part in self development. Even better if they can experience this alongside us. If that doesn’t happen, I’m not sure how that person can be effective and I’m not sure how long they could continue in an organization that believes in growing its team members and being a learning organization.

During my own personal growth time this morning I had this thinking affirmed in the great book I am currently reading, Leading Like Madiba: Leadership Lessons From Nelson Mandela by Martin Kalungu Banda. I was inspired to study Nelson Mandela by Richard Branson. Madiba is one of Branson’s leadership heroes. Just as Richard Branson is one of mine. Talk about a guy (Branson) who continues to learn, grow, try new things, and start new thing. Pretty sure he has never said, “I’ve seen it all and know it all.”

In Kalungu Banda’s book he tells the story of Mandela going into the locker room before a soccer match and asking his favorite professional soccer player, Mark Fish, to switch jerseys with him. Mandela was wearing a jersey with Fish’s number on it. Fish agreed and Mandela went on to explain how much he was inspired by him and learned from him. Fish was very touched and inspired by this and said that any time he wore or even looked at the jersey he had gotten from Mandela it inspired him to get better. What the story about Mark Fish in this great book shows is that great leaders also need to be inspired. Mark might think that it was Mandela who inspired him and not the other way round, but it is clear from the story that Mandela had long been inspired by Fish.

Martin Kalungu Banda gives some great, what he calls in the book, Food For Thought on this story:

“We often do not imagine great leaders to be in the process of learning. Indeed, most leaders do not look as if they want to learn or have the time for it. They are either giving advice or opening a workshop for other people. We are surprised when we hear that a leader spent a day at a conference as a participant.”

As I said earlier, we need to be seen by those we serve, learning. Even better to be learning right next to them.

“Imagine what becomes of leaders who do not find anything to inspire them. My guess is that they soon dry up. They cease to inspire others because they have no replenishment themselves. We can only give what we have. So, to be leaders who inspire our organisations and communities, I am convinced we need clear sources of inspiration ourselves. Inspirational leaders continue to be moved by the surprises and wonders of life –people and nature, and the interaction between the two. Such leaders position themselves so that they continue to experience the awesome character of the world that surrounds them and the profundity of human life.”

What inspires you? You cannot inspire other people unless you get inspired and continue learning yourself.

“They [leaders] are always learning. Learning is about lending oneself, through practice, to the ‘how’ question: How can I hear other people better? How can I do this better? How can I understand this situation better? This style could explain why in spite of his age Madiba beams with the joy and vitality of a 21-year-old. It could be his ability to be inspired by other people. The readiness to be inspired by a footballer.”

When we feel so knowledgeable that all we want to do is impart what we know on others, it is a sign that we have stopped learning. There is no such thing as standing still in learning, however. You are either learning or you are regressing. I don’t know about you, but I do not want to regress!


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