Why Leaders Should Learn as They Go Along

June 8, 2023

babies first steps

Overview: When we’re in learning mode, we’re keen to set goals, experiment, draw conclusions, and learn lessons. Unfortunately, we tend to abandon learning mode, as it often requires us to leave our comfort zones. Leadership coaching can help leaders re-commit to learning mode and become more versatile and adaptable.

When we begin experiencing the world around us as toddlers, we’re firmly in quick learning mode. Everything is new, and we know nothing about how things work. We must observe, develop goals as simple as getting from one end of the carpet to another, and experiment. When we fail we try again. Having learned a bit from every failure, we gradually put together the abilities we need to reach our goals.

When we grow up, we develop abilities that allow us to perform tasks that society values and rewards. Once we earn livings we deem satisfactory, we tend to drop out of quick learning mode and rely on the knowledge and skills we’ve already accumulated.

The Trap of Abandoning Learning Mode

From the perspective of leadership coaching, dropping out of learning mode is a trap. Not only does this trap prevent leaders from learning and developing new abilities, but it also pushes them towards activities that reinforce their strengths. Having fallen into this trap, leaders seek out feedback that reaffirms their talents and pleasantly strokes their self-esteem.

We’re all conditioned to seek satisfaction and pleasure in life. Our proclivity to abandon learning mode is likely a consequence of this primal conditioning.

Leadership coaching professionals understand this conditioning and the challenges of re-entering quick learning mode.

The Goal of Leadership Coaching: Help Leaders Re-Enter Learning Mode

Executive coaching can help leaders re-commit to quick learning in many ways. By addressing the innermost core of one’s leadership competencies, coaches can trigger mindsets that help leaders achieve leadership maturity. Mature leaders don’t see setbacks as signs that they aren’t cut out to address problems. Instead, they re-phrase the situation as them not having developed the tools to address the problems yet.

This attitude and mindset are essential for re-entering the learning zone, as they establish baselines for leaders and push them towards the next stage of the process, which is setting learning goals.

Setting Goals

Executive coaching specialists assess leaders’ competency gaps and help them set optimal goals for learning. For the process itself, setting any learning goal would be fine. Coaches can, however, help leaders direct their learning efforts toward goals with deep impacts on their leadership.

Leadership learning goals can include developing self-awareness, adopting different attitudes toward problems, kick-starting a new project, or delegating more tasks to employees.


Coaches can help leaders devise ways to experiment with new skills and alternative leadership strategies. They can propose ways to improve persuasiveness or empower others by handing the reins of a meeting, for example, to a high-potential employee.

Coaches can also act as sounding boards for leaders when it comes to developing learning opportunities and experiments or assessing the results of these experiments.

Drawing Conclusions

Following their experiments, leaders must conduct after-action reviews, preferably through objective lenses. This is another area where coaches can help. A leadership coach can be a candid sounding board for clients as they draw conclusions and lessons. Coaches can also provide feedback, clarifying what they think went well or flopped in the experiment. Leaders can also use the help of coaches to establish subsequent learning targets.

Blocks labeled with human brains and one light bulb.
Conclusions provide valuable lessons to learn.


Leaders and high-potential employees tend to benchmark themselves against others.

To facilitate their re-entering of the learning zone, leadership coaches can help redirect their focus toward development. Instead of diagnosing leadership capabilities in themselves and others, leaders are better off focusing on developing the abilities their organizations need.

Intelligent leaders understand that by being in learning mode, they can better anticipate and meet future challenges. By focusing on development over diagnosis, they hand their organizations tools to bring up their future leaders in-house.

Contact us to learn more about how you can join the IL Movement as a coach or how you can benefit from partnering with us to bring IL Solutions to you and your organization.

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