The Leader as Learner . . .

Ford and Edison

Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.                    ~ Peter Drucker

Leaders are interesting creatures. They come in all shapes, sizes, colours and backgrounds and to try to categorize or lump them into a single description is futile, and rather pointless as well. There is, however, one characteristic that seems to be ingrained in most of those we consider leaders.

They are lifelong learners, meaning they are curious and always eager to learn more. To learn more about their business, their employees, and about themselves. They read voraciously. They Google things they are curious about, like the origins of certain words, sports statistics, the backgrounds of famous people in history. It’s not a search for perfection, but about being better at whatever they deem to be important.

ford_film_landingRecently I stayed at the Dearborn Inn near Ford headquarters, just outside of Detroit. The inn was built by Henry Ford, as was the airport just in front, to land and house Ford executives and clients from all over the world for meetings and conferences. I didn’t know this before, but Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were contemporaries, and early in his life Henry Ford worked for Edison.

Both Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were life long learners; curious tinkerers in all thomas-edison-lightbulbsorts of areas. Ford was not only curious to learn more about motor cars, but also production techniques, modern town planning, social issues, and all sorts of other human endeavours.  Thomas Edison was the ultimate curious learner, attested by the fact that he had 2,332 patents to his name.  Besides the light bulb, Edison also invented the motion picture projector and the phonograph.

I am not overly impressed by the great names and reputations of those who might be trying to beat me to an invention…. Its their ‘ideas’ that appeal to me.I am quite correctly described as ‘more of a sponge than an inventor….’   ~Thomas Edison

Often on a leadership team I have the pleasure of working with one or two individuals stand out for their curiosity and openness to learning.  Too often senior executives contract the “know it all” disease, which of course is ultimately fatal, since the world is changing so rapidly and, as Marshall Goldsmith is famous for saying; “what got you here won’t get you there”.  More often than not, a year or two later these open sponges for knowledge and understanding are promoted, many times to the top job when the CEO either moves on or is pushed out.

Where ever they reside in the organization, the curious learners always wind up making a positive difference.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
This entry was posted in consulting, Human Psychology, John R Childress, leadership, Life Skills, Organization Behavior, Personal Development, Psychology, Self-improvement, the business of business and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Leader as Learner . . .

  1. Great post John. I believe this in every fiber of my being…


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