5 Mental Habits That Support Lifelong Learning

In his classic book entitled Leading Change, John P. Kotter devotes his final chapter to the importance of leadership to creating and sustaining successful organizations. Beyond the development of leadership skills, the successful executive will need to be a lifelong learner. Kotter suggests the following five mental habits that successful leaders will need to support lifelong learning (p. 183):

  1. Risk taking: willingness to push oneself out of comfort zones
  2. Humble self-reflection: honest assessment of successes and failures, especially the later
  3. Solicitation of opinions: aggressive collection of information and ideas from others
  4. Careful listening: propensity to listen to others
  5. Openness to new ideas: willingness to view life with an open mind

His observation about the relationship between listening and learning is especially insightful:

Much more than the average person, lifelong learners also listen carefully, and they do so with an open mind. They don’t assume that listening will produce big ideas or important information very often. Quite the contrary. But they know that careful listening will help give them accurate feedback on the effect of their actions. And without honest feedback, learning becomes almost impossible (p. 182).

I think the overwhelming majority of faculty that teach in the Executive MBA program at the University of Nevada meet Kotter’s criteria of lifelong learners. The program director, Dr. Kambiz Raffiee, models the way for our group. Our program development meetings are always very productive. No one ever wastes our time with arrogant pontification or tries to dominate the conversation in order to force an opinion on others. We share a common goal, and we all actively listen to each other as we consider ways we can continually improve our courses to meet the high and evolving expectations of our executive students.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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About Bret Simmons

Nevada Management Professor

Posted on March 12, 2012, in management, organizational behavior and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I think the steps you have laid out are important for anyone living in the digital age, where anything can change at a moment’s notice. A university’s respective departments should always be at the forefront of such endeavors, and listening plays a key role. I think UNR’s business department is doing a great job at keeping up with such trends in learning. Our Knowledge Center alone allows for us to be at the forefront of many new and important learning technologies.

    • You are correct, Tiffany, the business school needs to lead the way with learning and leveraging new technologies, but it’s not always the case. The folks in the EMBA program are all making a good faith effort. Thanks for sharing!

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