Great Leadership and Life-Long Learning

September 3, 2012

By Carolyn Sawyer

This is one of a series of articles revolving around the topics that will be presented at the 20th Anniversary Leadership Summit scheduled for September 20-22, 2012, in Charlotte, NC. The program titled, ‘Leadership That Leaves a Legacy' includes underlying themes of leadership, trust, change, courage and the personal challenges of serving as a leader in local government.

Great Leaders; Life-Long Learning
One of the 10 traits of successful leaders who build successful organizations is the lust for lifelong learning. They love to learn. They look for any and every opportunity they might find to learn. The 20th Anniversary Annual Leadership Summit offered by The National League of Cities' Leadership Training Institute presents such an opportunity.

A few years ago, I set out to examine the Leadership traits of successful businesswomen. These were women who started small business ventures across the country and grew the companies into entities that generated more than one million dollars a year in revenue-and annual pay salaries and taxes to Cities both big and small. It should be noted, there are less than one million women-owned businesses that generate revenues over one million. Instead of asking why, we asked how they did it. In the book Forget the Glass Slipper, Build your Own Castle: 10 traits for building a multimillion dollar business, we look at the common traits of these ladies and other successful leaders. The one trait that did not surprise me in the least was their thirst for learning. These leaders not only crave constant learning, but demand it for those around them. Several of my colleagues confess in homes, it is often difficult to climb into bed because of the books stacked nearby.

What experience shows us is that by creating an environment that places a high value on life-long learning and personal development, one can foster a culture of growth and productivity that translates into success. How else can we explain the countless men and women who grew up in many of our small, rural communities with limited resources, but went on to rule their industries?

Expanding Minds and Capabilities
Life-long learning isn't just about the individual earning advanced degrees or certificates. Life-long learning is also about the growth of character. It is a quest to develop into a well-rounded, intelligent, soulful person. We are talking about people who want to be thinking and growing with vibrant, evolving personalities.

It is in that personal growth that community growth is borne. It is nearly impossible for any City to grow if the people leading it are stagnant.

Life-long learners encourage others to also pursue continuing education. Skill development must extend throughout City Hall. If you bring City staff together for team building opportunities, it increases knowledge and unity within the workforce. Many team-building programs offer a chance for coworkers to learn about each other. Gaining valuable insight into your team's strengths and weaknesses gives them a chance to find success and maximize potential. By creating the opportunity to focus on skill development, it gives any organization an edge. It can also create the opportunity to network in a variety of environments, which also expands ones knowledge base.

Taking the Lead
A team is only as good as its leader.

There is absolutely no reason that you should not be pursuing life-long learning opportunities. Your intellectual and professional growth is important. Take time for yourself and attend workshops, conferences and seminars such as the 20th Anniversary Annual Leadership Summit. The National League of Cities' Leadership Training Institute presents a unique program designed to enhance your success and understanding of your leadership role and responsibilities as a local government leader.

When you bring a culture of life-long learning to your personal life it enhances your ability to face adversity and enjoy success. A well-balanced, healthy mind is an integral element in success. Others will look to you for leadership and composure when the pressure is on. I have found that feeling mentally and spiritually balanced has provided me with a sense of peace in stressful situations. Life-long learning also gives you the ability to see opportunities for change and growth that you might not have been able to see before. Continuing to expand your knowledge base will allow you to try more new things.

Finding Life-Long Opportunities
For many, the obvious first choice for finding Life-long Learning opportunities is the local community college or university. Traditional learning opportunities are a good way to expand your horizons. Moreover, colleges and universities are continuously looking for new ways to make continuing education more accessible than ever before. Things like online classes, satellite campuses and distance education give the working professional a chance to cater learning around his or her schedule.

"Career coaches" and "Life coaches" can offer one-on-one counseling to help you maximize your efficiency. Be careful to research and get referrals first. Many coaches do not have the benefit of an education from an accredited source. Whether you choose to focus on your career or your personal life with a coach, make sure their philosophies and style are close to your own. Trying to work with a coach that does not share the same vision as you can be difficult, if not detrimental; so make sure you're comfortable.

Even something as simple as "Peer Coaching" can be beneficial. Some of the best advice we've received has come from our colleagues. The selection of an accounting firm, new merchant services, company policies and procedures, payment strategies, wireless technology and the use of a virtual assistance are all byproducts of listening and learning from other successful business owners.

Teachable Moments
One of the key ways to make your community a living, breathing learning environment is to give the citizens a chance to learn from your experiences as well, even the missteps. Share them. Turn mistakes and challenges into "teachable moments." No one is perfect, and how you resolve problems is as important as the impact the mistake itself has made. Encourage collaboration and mentoring to produce peak performances. Foster a life-long learning legacy in your city.


Carolyn Sawyer is the founder, president, and chief strategist of the Tom Sawyer Company. Sawyer was named broadcaster of the year and has won numerous awards, including an Emmy, for her exceptional communication and presentation skills.

Details: The annual Leadership Summit is NLC's premiere leadership development program for local officials. Designed as a leadership retreat, the Summit provides personal leadership development that is focused on community perspectives. For more information, contact the Leadership Training Institute at (202) 626-3170 or visit the NLC website at www.nlc.org