February 2009


Better Business | by Neil Ducoff


Commit to Lifelong Learning

As a business leader, a commitment to lifelong learning is a non-negotiable success factor.

Now, I’ll bet you’re thinking that this earth-shattering statement is about as insightful as telling you that you need to pay attention to your numbers. Every business leader knows this. Every business leader devours business books and regularly seeks out seminars, training and coaching to develop and hone their business skills. Right? To make sure, let’s have you start considering yourself.

What’s your commitment and personal program for lifelong learning? How open are you to developing and adding to your business-skill inventory?

The subject of lifelong learning does more than chime a couple of personal notes within me; it opens a floodgate of passion. Does it do the same for you?

Because you’re reading this article, you too are feeding your passion for knowledge, understanding and new ideas. You too want to be a better leader and businessperson. But what if you’re not as open to learning as you think? What if leaders and employees in your business are not as open as you think?

Begrudgingly, I must admit that my experience also tells me that many in leadership positions understand the non-negotiable rule of lifelong learning but do little, if anything, to engage in the process. I could go as far as stating that many leaders are so closed to learning that, even when the opportunity is thrown before them, the knowledge can’t get in. These leaders are stuck in their own impenetrable boxes.

Now, ponder the “locked box” thinking within your own company. How many of your leaders and employees are stuck with what they know now?

A commitment to lifelong learning is a perpetual commitment to personal change. Development is the cause and change is the effect. One cannot occur without the other. If you or your employees are resistant to change, no learning endeavor will ever find its way into your business or its culture. Lifelong learning is all about change. Accelerate its pace, and you accelerate your personal growth potential. Do the same in your company and it will break through the internal resistance to change by giving it the collective knowledge to grow and adapt.

I look at lifelong learning as a menu of opportunities for growth. Here’s an overview of my personal menu.

Never stop reading. I love business books. I devour them. I look for titles that address cutting-edge business thinking, proven principles and systems on leadership disciplines. Personally, I rarely go for motivational books. If I want motivation, I look at my financials, my business and the work that needs to be done. That’s just me. Give me the knowledge, disciplines and tools; I’ll take it from there. Know what matters to you and what targets your passion.

Learn from others. I regularly turn to others to tap their knowledge and expertise. During my entire career, I’ve surrounded myself with so-called coaches and advisors who challenge my thinking and help me learn and grow. If hiring a personal coach is best for you, find one who will be brutally honest and challenge you to refine your leadership, execution, financials and innovative thinking.

Focus on training and education. A busy schedule is no excuse for not getting into a training program of some sort at least once a year. I look for courses that target specific disciplines, such as financial planning, bonus plan design, long-range planning, etc. I don’t waste my time with events that feature many speakers offering 90-minute sound bites. If I want sound bites, I’ll read a business magazine. If I’m giving up precious time, I’m going where the content is.

Every experience is a learning opportunity. Every day is full of experiences and challenges. What are you learning from them? What caused a problem or crisis? What could you or your team have done differently? I’m blessed to be in a line of work that connects me with so many leaders, businesses and experiences. I approach each as an opportunity to learn and grow. Cynics are closed-minded and miss it all.

I know what works for me. Even so, I push myself to explore new ideas and opportunities. I push myself to understand and master things that challenge me to reach my full potential. By doing so, I see those around me do the same.

Determination and commitment are infectious. So is a commitment to lifelong learning. Do it for yourself and your company.

Neil Ducoff is the founder and CEO of Strategies, a business training and coaching company specializing in the salon and spa industry. During his 38 years as a business trainer, coach, keynote speaker and author, Ducoff has gained respect as an expert of team-based compensation. For more information, visit www.strategies.com or e-mail neil@strategies.com.