Continuous Learning in Leadership
October 26, 2021

Continuous learning in the workplace must become the new norm if individuals and organisations want to stay ahead. It is indeed more demanding than ever, especially for leaders to take on a new role they might initially find unfamiliar. For leaders, mindsets and behaviours must be learned and unlearnt to meet their people and organisations’ needs as we face the age of reskilling.

It’s harder to learn new things as an adult; the pain of making mistakes doesn’t roll off as quickly as it might have when we were younger. So how can leaders foster an environment of psychological safety where employees are supported but still productively challenged? Many discussing this problem concluded that part of the solution might be for leaders to dial their levels of empathy and humility and focus more on enabling the best in their people rather than commanding it from them.

Edited excerpts from our fellow EGN member Vimal Kumar Rai’s reflections on the topic discussed are as follows.

1) What does continuous learning mean to an executive who has been in their particular field for over 15 years?

Vimal: 15 years is a very long time given the pace of technological progress and the disruption that it tends to bring. So to me, continuous learning is really about 2 things:

  • Updating myself about brand new information and knowledge, perhaps in fields I did not have time or space to consider before.
  • Applying the new knowledge acquired in real life on actual projects. Acquiring knowledge often also means we need to do some mental housekeeping, updating our mental models, mindsets etc., to consider new paradigms.

Some people call this “unlearning”. As an example, in the B2B marketing space, there are so many new opportunities brought about by social media (which was not really there 15 years ago), and I find myself having to unlearn the over-reliance we tend to have on advertising in favour of other more organic methods.

2) What’s significant about being in a peer group, and how does that elevate continuous learning?

Vimal: It’s all in the name – “peer” group. It’s a collection of trusted peers, who like yourself and many other leaders, bring to the table years, sometimes decades of experience and a similar hunger and desire to learn and adapt in this new world.

It is said that the best learning environments are those where open communication, testing and failure is not judged negatively, and this is exactly what a peer group tends to provide. It is a safe space for us to share challenges and benefit from the collective wisdom of everyone across multiple industries. It tends to be very difficult to access these sorts of environments in our daily work and private lives.

3) Why is it important to establish a trusted network of professional support?

Vimal: As we move up the career and experience ladder, the perceived cost of failure rises, sometimes exponentially. To re-use my earlier comment about the rapid advancement of technology, tools, and the ensuing disruption in just the marketing world, it becomes critical that CMOs, CSOs, and other commercial leaders are updated in terms of skills and knowledge. Sure, you can go to classes, but nothing beats learning from a trusted network of peers who are not in competition with you and who are willing to help lend a hand of support. Plus, you have the additional – often underrated – benefit of contributing yourself to someone else’s learning and development journey! Usually, this is priceless. For example: at one of the peer group meetings, someone asked about running LinkedIn ads. I had recently done so and was able to share details around the mechanics and the learnings I took away from my experience.

4) Have you faced any troubles/challenges and used a solution or framework that you learned through the EGN Peer Group?

Vimal: A recent cross-functional virtual event around the topic of “Customer Success” provides an excellent example. There was a discussion around the “Experience as a Service” business model. Given that most organisations these days are looking at experiential differentiation, it was a great platform to gain insights into how others were successful – or not successfully – doing this. As with many things, what sounds simple is rarely so when it comes to application in the real world of product and service failures. Therefore understanding how to align teams towards common goals and interests right from the beginning – as opposed to when it is too late – was a valuable takeaway for me.

5) How have unbiased opinions and knowledge has helped people to grow and improve their management skills?

Vimal: We are often hindered by an inner voice that asks us, “What’s in it for them?” (WIIFT) when our regular circle of friends or colleagues openly share their knowledge and experiences – IF they ever share it openly, that is!

We cannot help but wonder why they are sharing it. Or if it’s a situation of a performance appraisal, the entire scenario tends to be stressful and generally non-conducive to actual learning and improvement; I think we have all been there! Management skills tend to be transferable across industries and domains, and as such, when you have a relative “outsider” share their successes or failures openly, you tend to imbibe the lessons a little more seriously than if someone from within your own organisation tells you the same thing. The WIIFT question does not even arise because you know they have nothing to gain or lose from applying their knowledge or experience. This lack of “judgement” has been proven to increase learning and improvement opportunities.

6) The EGN peer group shares skills with one another. So they grow together and hence continuous learning. However, how about growing beyond? For example, if a Manager/Executive wants to be a CEO or HOD one day or Regional Director, how far can a peer group bring them to that level/goal?

Vimal: I believe there are opportunities for this in each one of our groups. We have sufficient diversity of experience across all levels of management – from the new entrepreneur to the C-level executive of multiple listed organisations. Everyone brings something valuable to the game, so planning one’s upward career trajectory is certainly possible.

Watch Vimal Rai’s video on attending the EGN peer group here:

EGN Singapore Playing a Pivoting Role in Leadership

EGN Singapore was formed for like-minded peers to discuss the issues that matter to you most in business and facilitate members to share their practical experience from an executive and leadership perspective. It’s a space to connect with people who can further your career and business agenda and create a knowledge-sharing network that is confidentially moot approaches and solutions among peers.

Now, as a senior business executive in Singapore, you have a safe space to openly discuss your leadership challenges and confidentially debate your strategies and solutions among peers.

EGN is designed to be a supportive forum for EGN members to divulge and discuss key issues around leadership, sustainability, a path to net-zero, risk management, or profit opportunities that confront business owners and SMEs.

Are you an executive, or do you know an executive that might benefit from joining our peer groups? Or wondering which would be the best peer group for you to join? Visit EGN to learn more and register now to become a member!

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