Lifelong Learning: Lessons From Top Business Leaders To Amp Up Your L&D
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Lifelong Learning: 6 Lessons Learned From Top Business Leaders To Amp Up Your L&D

There is hardly any other authority higher and an influence stronger than Albert Einstein, who once said:

 “Learning is not a product of schooling but the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”
- Albert Einstein

How acutely accurate was he!

Lifelong Learning can be defined as the process of gaining knowledge and skills throughout the course of one’s life, for personal or professional reasons. To quote Wikipedia, "it’s an ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge”. Note the use of words ‘voluntary’ and ‘self-motivated’. In these words lie the crux to growing, becoming, attaining - continually, in an infinite way. To say the least, Lifelong Learning goes beyond ‘schooling’ and ’assigned’ training.

And it certainly doesn’t come as a surprise why some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs and business leaders subscribe to Lifelong Learning as a tried and tested method to continued success. Here are a few quotable quotes from them for us to live by.

Lesson 1

“You don’t really start getting old until you stop learning.”
- Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft Corporation

The billionaire founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, has been constantly learning, even after dropping out of Harvard, and one thing that constantly fuels his thirst for knowledge is ‘reading’. He believes books have had a big part to play in his success, and just an hour of reading per day sees him cover almost over 50 books in a single year.

Speaking with Time magazine, Gates said, “You don’t really start getting old until you stop learning. Every book teaches me something new or helps me see things differently. Reading fuels a sense of curiosity about the world, which I think helped drive me forward in my career and in the work that I do now with my foundation.” Gates further wrote in a Time article, “There’s never been a better time to be alive if you’re curious. When I wanted to learn something outside of school as a kid, cracking open my World Book encyclopedia was the best I could do. Today, all you have to do is go online.”

L&D Booster: Get your hands on content - online, offline; books, research papers. Online content marketplaces like Lynda, LinkedIn Learning, Khan Academy have opened the floodgates to rich learning content, which can be availed, and accessed from any device too, at low/no cost.

Lesson 2

”You are better off trying something and learning from that than doing nothing at all.”
- Mark Zuckerberg, Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO of Facebook

The founder of Facebook, Mark Zukerberg, has long been an ardent advocate of personalized learning. Zuckerberg has always had a hunger for learning, which he has publicly spoken about time and again; making resolutions to read a book every week. “I’ve found reading books very intellectually fulfilling. Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today,” Zukerberg writes in his Facebook post.

It’s a proven fact that business leaders, who are motivated theoretically, love to learn. They strive to learn something/anything new all the time. And this holds true for Zuckerberg who challenged himself to learn Mandarin, and then later gave an entire interview in that language. Now, if that’s not impressive then what is!

L&D Booster: While learning foreign languages has a multitude of advantages, often times the bigger, and real, challenge organizations face is training a diverse and multi-lingual workforce. One way or the other, a robust Learning Management System that supports multiple languages, complemented with a suite of multi-lingual learning content does wonders for the employees as well as the business.

Lesson 3

”You can learn a lot more than you think you can.”
- Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX & Tesla Inc.

It is no less than a baffling fact that entrepreneur Elon Musk has built four different multibillion dollar organizations, namely SpaceX, Tesla Inc., PayPal and SolarCity; and he attributes this success in part to his thirst for knowledge.

According to his brother, Kimbal Musk, Elon started reading from his early teenage days, and read two books every day. Musk began his learning journey through books in science fiction, religion, engineers, which later extended to career interests, leading him towards physics, product design, entrepreneurship and technology. So in effect, Musk’s desire for knowledge enabled him to reach out to a variety of areas that he had never learned about in school.

L&D Booster: Completing the ‘assigned’ learning/ training is great for your LMS Gamification scores. But going beyond that into pull-based learning, seeking new knowledge, collaborating with peers and seniors alike (read tech-enabled Social Learning) not only holds you in good stead but also broadens your (career) horizons.

Lesson 4

”You must continually increase your learning, the way you think, and the way you approach the organization.”
- Indra Nooyi, Chairwoman of PepsiCo

PepsiCo’s ex-CEO Indra Nooyi is undoubtedly one of the world’s most successful leaders and has had a lion’s share in making Pepsi a household name the world over. According to Nooyi, “Top leaders today need to be agile, work through scarcity and be collaborative. As a CEO, I am finding that I have to become a learning CEO. I have to go to school all the time because I am learning new skills that I need to run this company and I am realizing that I am not equipped to just coast, I have to constantly renew my skills.”

Nooyi has always highlighted the importance of learning throughout her career. From the time she was a CEO until today, Nooyi continues to learn more things that don’t necessarily fall under her expertise. “To make an impact in a complex and fast-changing world, you must learn, earn, and return, simultaneously, at every stage of your career,” Nooyi says, adding, “I got to be a CEO, and more importantly, I’ve stayed a CEO, because I am a lifelong student.”

L&D Booster: The C-suite is not immune to the growing challenges of the VUCA world. If anything at all, they need to be ready than ever before to steer their ship in the right direction while helping their crew upskill. Given the time availability (or rather the lack of) of top management personnel, it’s critical to embed flexible learning tools that enable them to learn when they need to and where they need to (read mobile learning platforms).

Lesson 5

“Focus more on learning than on succeeding. Instead of pretending that you understand something when you don’t, just raise your hand and ask a question.”
- Michelle Obama, American Lawyer & Former First Lady of the United States

Michelle Obama has been a lifelong supporter of learning, and specifically girls’ education, not only in the United States but all over the world. She has been the voice behind many education-related programs, including Reach Higher, Let Girls Learn and the Better Make Room social initiatives, during her tenure as the First Lady of the United States. Attributing her personal success to learning and education, Michelle Obama has always highlighted the importance of learning, especially for the younger generations.

In fact, during her last speech as the First Lady, Mrs. Obama delivered a very heartfelt and encouraging message to the youth of the country, stating, “Young people, don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered. Empower yourselves with a good education, then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless promise. Know that this country belongs to you, to all of you, from every background and walk of life. Our glorious diversity, our diversities of faiths and colors and creeds that is not a threat to who we are. It makes us who we are.”

L&D Booster: Social learning and knowledge collaboration tools in an LMS are good conduits of not just exchanging information and knowledge across levels, but also provide a safe environment for learners to reach out to their seniors/ SMEs for clarifying doubts, seeking additional assistance or merely learning from others’ failures.

Lesson 6

“The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.”
- Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook

There are no ‘small lessons’ to learn from the incredible Sheryl Sandberg. A Harvard graduate, technology executive, author, mother of two, a billionaire, CEO of Facebook and the Founder of Leanin.org, the list of roles that Sheryl Sandberg serves in is both prolific and inspiring.

There is no formula for success, one must learn quickly from their mistakes and adapt. Sheryl Sandberg believes that knowledge is the basis for a leader’s success, because knowledge drives confidence, and leaders need to exude confidence. Sandberg says, “I also know that in order to continue to grow and challenge myself, I have to believe in my own abilities.”

L&D Booster: The dots between leaders and learning are often a bit blurred. However, it’s possible (and rather easy too!) to connect these with some tried, tested and proven ways using a Learning Management System to 1. Cultivate the art of enquiry 2. Open up channels for communication and 3. Encourage learning from exposure.

It has been widely observed that individuals who work hard all through their careers but don’t or won’t take the time to keep learning are at a high risk of stagnation. More so, they could even lose their jobs to automation, just as it took away the jobs of blue-collar laborers in the manufacturing industry. A new ATD report also states that ‘over 55 percent of world’s major organizations prefer as well as prioritize cultivating employees of lifelong learners’, whereas a Pew Research Center survey states that ‘almost 87 percent of workers are certain that they will need to develop newer skills and receive further training during their careers so as to stay in sync with the changing workplace’.

So, what does this mean for today’s L&D professionals? It’s clear that employees must become aware that learning is a lifelong activity and not something that needs to be done in spurts and certainly not as a check-box activity. They need to adapt and learn continually in order to stay valuable and relevant. As the saying goes, ‘it takes two to tango’. While the employees take the reins of L&D in their own hands, it’s the organizations’ prerogative to not just provide the right tools (read learning platforms) but also an environment and culture that is conducive and promotes lifelong learning. Advancements in technology, AI and Machine Learning, and changing demographics are among the few aspects that are set to disrupt the existing workplace and L&D as we know it. As a result, it is highly imperative for L&D leaders to be future-ready in their ability to adapt to the necessities of the ever evolving workplace, making it a persistent endeavor deeply rooted into the daily workflow, and bringing the most relevant learning (content, techniques, tools, etc.) to the workplace where employees can seamlessly and rigorously enrich themselves with knowledge for years to come.

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