Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. – John F. Kennedy


As human beings we’re all works in progress. We try to make the time to work on ourselves, but then life gets in the way.

We get too busy with work or family. We don’t have the time, the resources, or the support. We make excuses.

But hey, we’ve gotten good at our jobs. Can’t we just hang up our shoes?

Not if we want to stay relevant, effective, and resilient in a rapidly changing world. The long and short of it, if we’re not learning we’re not keeping up.

It’s hard to be consistently intentional about our own development and growth. Most of our environments don’t naturally allow for it. We expect our direct reports and associates to learn and grow. We would never tolerate it if somebody completely stagnated and stopped learning. If we want our teams to continually sharpen their saws then we have to do the same. We must model what that looks like.

So how do we build a culture of continuous learning at work?

It starts with setting the tone. Make a budget, make the time, and set the expectation that people should, can, and will learn.

If financials resources are a challenge, not to worry; the biggest piece is permission and time. People won’t make the investment if they don’t see the benefit or worse they think that they’ll be sanctioned for spending time on anything beyond the task at hand.

When people feel like they have permission to work on themselves, if they have permission to read books and go to classes, if they have permission to give and receive feedback, they will jump on the opportunities to do so.

Ideally, the concept of continuous learning should be part of the foundation of what makes a business successful rather than viewed as a benefit, afterthought, or extra activity. And this mindset starts at the top.

What does continuous learning in the workplace look like?

Hoping that people learn by osmosis is not a safe strategy. It’s not realistic, and it hurts the organization. There is a plethora of effective activities – both informal opportunities and formal programs – that will help foster a culture of continuous learning. A few to consider:

Leadership Coaching. Leadership coaching is not just for c-suite executives. Coaching can improve self-awareness, build leadership skills, and generate more effective behaviors. It can be done at the individual or group level, and can take place over weeks, months or years. Coaching will help leaders at all levels unlock their potential to maximize their own performance and that of their organizations.

•Structured Learning and Workshops. Workshops allow for shared tools and shared experiences within a team. They are priceless when relevant and when the skills taught are practical and easily used. An added bonus, workshops can create the shared expectation of using what’s been learned – making it more likely for people to be held accountable and actually employ their new skills.

•Book Clubs. Book clubs encourage collaboration and communication while learning something new. InnerWill just launched an internal book club. We’re reading Standing at the Edge: Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet by Joan Halifax and meet bi-monthly in person or via video chat to share feedback an insights.

•Shared 360 Assessments. A 360 assessment helps measure the effectiveness of leaders and the organization. Individuals get feedback on their own leadership – increasing self-awareness and building upon unique strengths and competencies while also have the opportunity to share it with their team – supporting transparency and ultimately improving team performance.

•Field Trips. Find out what’s going on in your community and what makes it tick. Visit a local nonprofit or business and learn about their challenges and how they work together to overcome them. We can learn powerful lessons by stepping outside of our comfort zones and experiencing another way of operating rather than reading a white paper or sitting through another office meeting.

Continuous learning has the most significant impact when you implement a combination of activities and learning experiences over time; where people have the opportunity to learn, practice their skills, and then come back together to share feedback; and thus build upon their newly learned skills and existing competencies.

Our clients compete in various marketplaces in a complex world where they must continually learn about new products, new approaches, new techniques and new processes. They must be able to incorporate them into their cultures and adapt to change. Our most successful clients know that continuous learning is very much their competitive advantage.


Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson

Dr. Tom Epperson is the President of InnerWill, and an instructor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Executive MBA program. Tom is a certified business coach and has a Doctorate in Leadership from The George Washington University. Tom works with clients on cultural transformation, leadership development, executive coaching, and igniting individual and organizational potential. Previously, Tom served as the HR Director for Luck Companies, and played a significant role as one of the architects of Luck Companies’ cultural transformation.

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