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Learn by choice, not by chance

September 12, 2012
By Joelle K. Jay


Sept. 12, 2012 – In order to excel in your work, in your life, or as a
leader, you need to commit to continuous learning. Many leaders know
this, but many more are missing the opportunities for powerful learning
that could really help them get ahead on their goals.

Leaders are encouraged to learn "on the job." The problem is that many
of us don’t. Either because we’re too busy, we forget, we don’t know
what we need to learn, or we don’t have the resources we think we need,
we end up learning by chance or command. Neither one is very powerful.

Learning by chance means you take opportunities to learn whenever they
show up, but you don’t necessarily go looking for more. A conference
brochure arrives; it seems interesting; you go. A friend recommends a
book; it looks good; you read it. You take opportunities to learn as
they come to you – in other words, when it’s convenient.

Learning by command means you learn when someone else demands it. When
your colleagues tell you that you need to learn to be more decisive, or
when your profession requires that you get an advanced certification, or
when your boss sends you to a workshop to learn specific skills, you
are learning by command.


There’s nothing inherently wrong with these approaches to learning. Any
learning that advances your expertise and builds your capacity may be
worth your time.
Or it may not, and that’s the problem. You have so much potential, and
there are so many opportunities to learn, and there is so much to be
gained by learning that it simply doesn’t make sense to relegate your
learning to the whims of chance and command. You need to learn by

Learning by choice means carefully setting up your own learning
opportunities based solely on what you need to get better results. It is
based on a number of assumptions.

Learning is leadership. Learning is an essential component of
leadership. Some experts go so far as to say learning is leadership, a
leader’s constant quest for the improvement of the business, people, and
results. As a leader, what do you need to learn? What leadership
skills, strategic practices, or management techniques will help you be
more effective? Look at your results, and notice where there’s room for
improvement. What do you need to learn in order to improve those
results? This is the kind of learning that supports powerful leadership.

Learning is profit and competitive edge. The soul of business is
innovation; the soul of personal leadership is the innovation of the
self. You can’t have one without the other. If you want to have, run, or
be part of a business that succeeds in a time of change, you need to be
willing to change, as well. Think about it. If another company is doing
better than yours, what do you need to learn to be better able to
compete? If you personally are stuck in a rut in your career, what do
you need to learn to get a more competitive edge? Without asking these
questions, you will start to languish in mediocrity, and that’s no place
for a leader. Refuse to buy into the assumption that the economy, the
market you’re in, or your products are creating your results. If you’re
not happy with what you’ve got, go out and learn what needs to change.
You’ll feel more in control, and you will learn to lead the way to a
more powerful and profitable place.

Learning is life. In addition to learning for all of the practical and
rational reasons that contribute to your effectiveness as a leader,
there’s one more: learning is part of the fun of life. When was the last
time you picked up a new sport, game or hobby? We learn these things
not because we have to, but because we want to. Your vision and goals
will be infused with a new sense of exuberance when you commit to
learning what you need to learn in order to achieve them. You will know
that you can do anything you want to as long as you know how to learn.

Learning is an essential component of leadership, but not all learning
experiences are equally powerful. Learning by choice means understanding
exactly what you need to learn in order to achieve your vision.

Sharpen your approach to learning by thinking about your vision or an important goal.
Brainstorm. What do you need to learn in order to achieve this vision or goal?
Choose one area in which to focus your learning, and choose the one that is likely to have the biggest impact.
Ask yourself, "What’s the most powerful way I can learn in this area to get the best and fastest results?"

This approach will steer you away from learning by chance and help you
choose your learning, so it’s more strategic and leads directly to your

If you really want to lead well and live well, you must learn to learn well, too.

Joelle K. Jay, Ph.D. ( is an executive coach specializing in leadership development and the author of The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership,
which shows leaders how to improve their effectiveness by learning to
lead themselves. Her newsletter, Inner Edge Insights, offers articles,
exercises, tips, quotes, and success stories from real leaders to help
you excel. To register, please visit and click on Newsletter, or email