Why Leaders Learn By DOING


By Jas Singh

Recently my son has started to learn French.

Since my parents are from two different countries, as well as English he’s managed to pick up three languages in total. We thought learning French would be easy.

His school provided books. We brought some DVD’s. He sat and listened to the teacher in class. But to our surprise, after several weeks he’d made very little progress.

By total coincidence, one of my best friends is from France – born and raised in Toulouse. His children only speak mostly French since they haven’t started school yet. A few weeks ago we decided to go away for the weekend and our son found himself surrounded by French speakers most of the time. By the end of just three days, he’d learned to communicate with the other children. Putting together basic French words. Simply by becoming immersed in doing.

It got me thinking.

In the world we live in today, learning has never been easier. We all have unlimited and cheap access to books, courses and YouTube video’s.

But has this endless amount of information resulted in over-analyzing and under-doing?

Are we only too ready to buy that book on Amazon rather than simply rolling-up our sleeves up and getting stuck in?

Off course, like all things in life there needs to be a balance. Success can only come by both learning on and off the job.

But in ten years as a recruiter I can say with confidence that most of the valuable lessons most people learn is through actual “doing”.

Here are some reasons why leaders learn by doing.

Success is never linear

Theory is great. It’s what allows us to transfer knowledge from generation to generation.

But practice can often be totally different.

Great leaders understand that to become a master of one’s profession, the majority of learning is done through experience on the job. It’s because life is not an equation – there are always unexpected challenges, new problems and seasonal changes that are often totally out of our control.

No book or qualification can cover all eventualities of life.

To find the road to success it’s often necessary to roll with the punches.

Action leads to progress

Most of us have been in a situation when we have invested large amounts of time, effort and even money in “learning” a particular subject or qualification, only to find out that we are still nowhere nearer to our end goals.

I commonly experience this with MBA’s. Many new MBA students (but not all) often undertake MBA’s to advance their careers, only to commonly experience that they are still overlooked in preference to candidates who have more industry experience in a particular sector.

Nothing is more disheartening that investing time and effort in learning large amounts of theory that is either undervalued, or even worse irrelevant to our envisaged purpose.

But learning through doing is different. By taking action, whatever happens we will slowly start to take steps towards our ultimate goal. Even if we experience setbacks – even failures – we will still feel like we are making progress.

Great leaders understand that progress is essential to healthy learning.

Practice makes perfect

Sometimes the theory can be relatively simple. Even easy. For example, most of us could learn the theory of a perfect golf swing in a few hours.

But converting theory into practical results takes practice.

Lots of practice.

Most of us would happily take golf lessons from an enthusiastic teacher or buy the latest Rory McIlroy DVD. Yet very few of us are prepared to hit 3000 balls a day for ten years; come rain, wind, sleet or snow.

But that’s what the best golfers do.

Great leaders understand that only by doing will they become masters of their trade. Theory will only take them to a certain point – after that there is no shortcut.

For learning to become ingrained, you have to practice, practice, practice.


Theory is essential.

But practice even more so.

Hiring managers can gain much from those people who are take advantage of learning new theory, but who also concentrate on working hard to learn on the job.

What have you learned through doing?

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