For Leaders: A License to Learn

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I got my pilot’s license back in 1984 (which is amazing, because normally they don’t allow 3-year olds to fly airplanes). When the FAA examiner signed my logbook certifying that I was now an official, licensed private pilot, he said something to me that I didn’t take all that seriously at the time. What he said was:

“This is a license to learn. It doesn’t mean you know everything.”

When you think about it, isn’t that true of almost everything? Think about the major events in your life. Are there any of these about which it could not be said, “This is a license to learn. It doesn’t mean you know everything.”

  • Graduation: From high school or college. Why do you think they call it “Commencement”? Because it’s a beginning. It’s an invitation to continue your education, not to end it.
  • Marriage: Truly a “license to learn.” And those who have been there will tell you that you learn far more about yourself than you do about your partner.
  • A new job: Anybody who has been in any job for more than a few years (and who is honest about it) will tell you that they can’t believe how naive they were on their first day.
  • And the list goes on: having children, getting fired, getting divorced, a major trip, etc.
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The truth–the real truth–is that life itself is a “license to learn.” To a large extent, we’re brought into this world as a tabula rasa–a blank slate. From our first second we are learning.

Sadly, some people seem to think that this process ends when they leave high school or college. It’s as if they say, “Whew! I’m glad that’s over! Now I’m educated. Now I can relax.” And they do. They relax their brain. They stop learning, in the proactive sense of the word. I’m sure you’ve seen the statistics:

  • 1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
  • 42% of college graduates never read another book after college.
  • 80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.

But this is not how leaders operate! Leaders–real leaders–know that they don’t know everything. They know that this entire journey is a “license to learn.”

So let’s just say it:

Old studying room with two leather armchairs and chess game

Leaders–if you’re not engaged in a continuous, intentional, pro-active regimen of learning, you need to turn in your membership card to the Leaders’ Club. Because you’re not really a leader.

As a leader, you should be continuously learning about:

  • your industry
  • your employees / team members
  • leadership techniques
  • outside interests
  • history
  • biography
  • current events

Obviously, that’s just a partial list. Because it never stops. Nor should it. Because when it comes to leadership–whether you’ve been doing it for a day or a decade…

“This is a license to learn. It doesn’t mean you know everything.”


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About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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