Get in the habit of learning if you want to be a better leader

The learning habit

Do you have the learning habit?

If a leader wants a better volunteer program, first the program needs a better leader. Becoming a better leader of volunteers starts with building good habits, and the habit with the highest impact you can create is the learning habit. Whether through books or webinars or just listening to experienced people, one of the easiest ways to improve your program is to increase your own knowledge.

And one of the easiest ways to increase your knowledge is through reading.

I know, I know. I happen to be a bit of a book nut, as you can see from the picture of my personal library. But it’s true. Whether you need information on a very specific topic, or you want to gain a broader understanding of a sector, there are books, articles, podcasts or social media posts that will cover what you’re looking for.

As businessman Charlie Munger put it, “In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time—none…zero.”

If the last time you picked up a book was high school, then you’re missing out on massive opportunities for growth both for yourself and your organization. Leaders are readers!

But most people—especially leaders of volunteers—are time- and energy-starved, so carving out several hours to read a book for work is a big ask. It’s a situation that calls for a different way of thinking. You need to create a habit of continuous learning, which sounds scary.

The fact is, though, you can initiate massive changes in your knowledge and leadership without making huge changes in your behaviour. Because, let’s face it, that’s unlikely to happen.

Instead, big change happens through making small habit changes.

About 50% of everything we do is by habit. What that means is about half of the results you get are a product of your day-to-day habits. If you want things to change in your volunteer program, then your habits have to change. As that is easier said than done, here are a few tips.

Make your new learning habit tiny

James Clear wrote a book called Atomic Habits that explains how tiny changes, accumulated over time, produce massive results. If you were to get 1% better each day, over the course of a year, it would compound to 38%, assuming I figured out my math correctly. (Which is a big assumption.).

Each day, another grain of sand gets dropped and you’re not even thinking about it. But it adds up. Could you read three pages of a book each day? That could add up to three books per year! One blog article? That’s 365 new pieces of information.

Make your new habit easier to “do” than “not do”

Shawn Achor gives a great example in his book, The Happiness Advantage. He wanted to learn to play guitar. So, he put the guitar in his living room within easy reach. But what he found was that the easier thing to do when he went into the living room was to pick up the remote to watch TV. Six months went by. He still didn’t have a habit of practicing guitar. So he took the batteries out of his remote and put them in another part of the house that was a 20-second walk away.

That small change made all the difference. Because it was now easier to pick up the guitar than it was to go get the batteries for the remote, he began practicing daily.

How can you make learning easier to do than not do? Perhaps you could try listening to a podcast during your drive to work. Or carrying a book with you to read while you’re waiting in a line rather than playing a game on your phone.

Use the “habit loop” to your advantage

Habits are formed through a process known as the “cue-craving-response-reward” loop. Essentially, this means that a “cue” (such as waking up in the morning) triggers a “craving” (wanting to feel alert), which leads to a “response” (such as making a cup of coffee) and ultimately a “reward” (feeling more alert).

What cue could you use to remind yourself of your learning habit? Maybe you could read those few pages while you drink your morning coffee? Or turn on a podcast as soon as you get in the car?

Is your volunteer program struggling?

Maybe your first step should be to improve yourself. Good luck! (And if you need a book, I have a few…)

Excerpt: The most successful leaders of volunteers are those that have developed a learning habit, and invest time and energy in their personal and professional development. Here are a few ways to do that.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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