Learning Your Way

Bill Abbate

There has always been a connection between education, learning, and leadership. Education is never complete, learning can be challenging, and leadership is rewarding when done correctly. Who would want it any other way? Let’s look at what makes someone a great leader.

The mother of leadership

The relationship between education, learning, and leadership has been known and explored for centuries. Have you heard the saying that education is the mother of leadership? The man who coined the phrase, Wendell Willkie, was an accomplished lawyer and corporate executive. He made a bid for the Whitehouse in 1940. If you study Willkie’s background, you will find he spoke from deep experience.

“Education is the mother of leadership.” Wendell Willkie (1892–1944)

Is education always formal? No.

Education can come in different forms.

Many of our founding fathers had little or no formal education. George Washington never went to school, and Benjamin Franklin, one of the top intellects in the 1700s, dropped out at ten. Many were home-schooled or self-taught. One of our early presidents, Abraham Lincoln, dropped out of grade school and was completely self-taught. Would anyone consider him uneducated? I never would!

Every good leader shares a common trait. As noted in the Harvard Business Review article, Good Leaders Are Good Learners. Business leaders authorize billions of dollars each year for leadership development, so it only makes sense most passionately believe in education.

Lifelong learning has been an essential part of every leader’s life I have ever known. All it takes is a quick search on the internet for “lifelong learning and leadership,” and you will find tens of millions of results!

The child of education

Leaders come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. They can be of either sex, with entirely different educational backgrounds, and from anywhere in the world.

While formal education can play a role in making a good leader, leadership has always required far more. The highly regarded Harvard Business Review outlines this truth. Their article, the Myth of the Well-Educated Manager, makes the case it takes more than degrees to become an effective leader.

Good leaders are different than the average person. Leaders often have different attitudes toward life. They are usually more optimistic and have greater confidence. Whether they have formal education or not, their initiative and experience separate them from the norm.

While leader is a noun, leadership, like leading, is a verb that connotes action. For an individual to be considered a leader, they must actively lead. Titles matter little to real leaders. They do not earn their power from their title. Their power comes from what they say and do. It comes through their actions. It only makes sense the most important way for a leader to learn leadership is by doing.

Academics can talk about leadership, but unless they lead and experience leadership, it is mostly theory and conjecture, some of which can be of value.

It is true for many large corporations that formal education is a requirement. Education may get you in the door, but performance keeps you there and takes you up the ladder.

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917–1963)


Here are a few ways a leader can continue their education beyond their current level, regardless of their degree(s) or lack thereof:

  • Obtain leadership experience on an actual job
  • Read books by leaders, including biographies
  • Have at least one mentor involved in your life at all times
  • Study leadership by reading articles, listening to audio, and watching videos
  • Become a lifelong learner
  • Write about leadership
  • Teach leadership

What other ways can you think of to help others extend their education to become better leaders? I’d love to have your input in the comment section below!

“It must be remembered that the purpose of education is not to fill the minds of students with facts… it is to teach them to think.” Robert M. Hutchins (1899–1977)


If you are a good leader and reading this, you are likely a lifelong learner. Learning gives you energy, inspires you, and makes you want to practice the art of leadership.

“Learning is not a one-time event or a periodic luxury. Great leaders in great companies recognize that the ability to constantly learn, innovate, and improve is vital to their success.” Amy Edmondson (1959-present)

Practically everyone is familiar with the rhyme, “leaders are readers.” This shortened version comes from one of our past presidents, who said:

“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Harry Truman (1884–1972)

By not reading, you limit your growth as a leader. Why not pick up a book and start now, even if it is only a few pages a day? If you become consistent, you will be amazed at how quickly you get through a book.

I’m the kind that loves to mark up and dog-ear pages. I have had many people to whom I have loaned books say things like, “You really read a book, don’t you!” While I am picky about the books I read, I rarely find one from which I do not learn much!

Think about this; If you get only one idea from a book, it can pay huge dividends for the remainder of your life. I can assure you that you will gain far more than one idea from any decent book!

One of the best ways to learn as a leader is to read leadership books from the greats like Peter Drucker, Stephen Covey, John Maxwell, Patrick Lencioni, and Jim Rohn. Biographies are another excellent source for learning about leadership. Today, we are fortunate to have access to countless books on leadership in print and electronic form at very reasonable prices. There is no excuse not to have a book available to read at all times.

I suggest you find at least one new piece of information or idea about leadership daily. It can be something you read, or if you are more auditory, it could be from a book on tape, a recording, or a podcast about leadership. If you are a more visual learner, why not watch a few minutes of a video on YouTube, a Ted Talk, or the numerous other free resources on the web? There is no end to the free information available today, so why not take advantage of it, even if it is just a small bite each day?

Imagine if you were to learn one thing about leadership daily. That would be 365 new things a year. Do you think 365 new pieces of information about leadership could help you grow as a leader? Why not make it into a habit? You will reap enormous benefits from this small yet significant activity in no time.

“I am still learning”​ Michelangelo’s final words at age 88 (1475–1564)

Final thoughts

Do you consider yourself a leader or wish to become one? You are a leader, with or without a title. Every person influences someone in some way and therefore has the opportunity to lead them. Think about it, and this fact will become clear.

What do you want to do with your continuing education and learning? Why not come up with a plan to begin learning something today? You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

I can think of no better way to end this article than with the words of one of today’s most influential people on leadership and learning.

“Real learning gets to the heart of what it means to be human. Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we never were able to do. Through learning we reperceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life. There is within each of us a deep hunger for this type of learning.” Peter M. Senge (1947-present)

This is original content from NewsBreak’s Creator Program. Join today to publish and share your own content.

Comments / 0

Published by

Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA

More from Bill Abbate

Comments / 0