“What are you Learning?”


keep learning

Leaders Keep Learning


I have said it many times, and I will keep saying it… if you want to be a great leader you must be a great learner.  I personally love to be stretched by learning something new. I find it boring to do the same thing over and over, never adding new knew knowledge or setting out on new adventures. Learning and doing new things keeps life fresh interesting, and exciting. It keeps your brain alert, and your body invigorated. Below is an article from Dan Reiland regarding continual learning, and while his focus is on church leaders the principles apply to anyone who wants to grow as an individual or as a leader.

“What Are You Learning?”

A couple days ago, I changed from a PC to a Mac. I didn’t get any younger or cooler, and maybe became a little slower, for now. But I have increased what I’m learning – and discovering a new way to do things. That alone has great value.

Going to a Mac after a PC is not like learning to ride a horse for the first time, it’s more like learning to ride bareback after being very comfortable in your favorite saddle for a long time. It’s a wild ride a first, a lot of slipping and sliding, with potential to fall, but there are some new freedoms that are pretty cool. (Not to mention I haven’t hit a blue screen or had a freeze up of any kind.) I suspect that in time, I may find myself in a comfy “Mac-Saddle” if I don’t continue to learn, so that’s what I intend to do. That’s the secret. It’s not PC or Mac, contrary to the propaganda, it’s whether or not you keep learning.

I think we all like comfortable saddles, and learning takes us out of our comfort zone. After 25 plus years of leadership I could slip into a zone that allows me believe that this is the season of my life to invest what I know in others. Part of that is true and good, but if I don’t continue to learn, I will quickly become of little value to any leaders I pour into.

Three important questions about learning:

1. How you are learning?

I live in a suburb about forty miles northeast of Atlanta and there are several ways to get there from my house. Its difficult to say which route is best because a number of factors affect that choice. Anything from time of day/traffic patterns to special events like a Falcons game can have a huge impact on my ability to get to Atlanta. So I like as many options as possible. The same is true for how you and I learn. The more options the better.

In the context of this article, I’m not referring to your preferred learning style such as visual, auditory or kinesthetic. I’m talking about the ways you approach and experience learning, and the life contexts within which you learn.

Do you resist or embrace learning? Don’t answer too quickly. I talk with church leaders on a frequent basis that say they love to learn, but when I ask them what they are learning new today, they fumble for an answer. I’m won’t say these leaders openly resist learning, but they resist by default. They haven’t created time and space to learn, so therefore, in effect, they have resisted learning.

Here are some ideas to help you learn.

• Get pushed.

Create a reason that forces you to learn. I asked Tony Mimms, our IT Wizard at 12Stone Church, to cut off my life-support to my PC and force me into the deep end of the Mac learning pool. I was trying to tip-toe into the shallow end and learn my new Mac when I had a few minutes here and there, but I never had time. Once all my files were transferred to my Mac, it was show time! I had to learn! In this case I pushed myself, but I also have a couple guys on staff that are eager to teach me the secrets of the dark side – I mean, how to navigate successfully in Mac World!

Coaches are needed to push you in areas you need to learn, especially in leadership. Do you have a leadership coach? Is there someone or several people you can, on occasion, have coffee with, call or email, who can “push” you in your leadership so you have to learn? Lot’s of people can simply answer your questions, and that is helpful, but you don’t learn as much that way. Being pushed to learn (required / held accountable, challenged) by someone who knows how to guide you is transformational and truly invaluable.

• Try something new.

Experiment. It can be as simple as taking a new route to drive across town or eating at a restaurant you’ve never eaten at before. You will always learn something new if you have your eyes open. The experiment can also be complex, such as launching a new way to connect new guests to your church or a new approach to small group ministry. Driving new routes and eating at new restaurants can be done randomly and spur of the moment. But obviously something like a new method for doing small groups must be done with strategic attention and planning. But all these things are, essentially, experiments. In other words, you aren’t locked in for life if it doesn’t work. The key outcome is what did you learn? Success is the goal, but whether success or failure, what you learn is what matters most.

• Rub the right shoulders.

This isn’t about giving someone a back massage. Rub shoulders with people who love to learn and continually learn. One of the things I love about John Maxwell is that is he is a voracious learner. When John travels, from current business culture to ancient history, he’s learning all the time. John is always asking questions, reading, absorbing, and processing. I love it when he comes back and asks me, “Did you know” questions, and then of course tells great stories. I enjoy the stories, and love learning from what he’s learning.

You know the difference between leaders who continue to do things the same way year after year after year; and the leaders who are constantly doing research and development, trying new things and learning daily. Rub the right shoulders!

2. What you are learning?

My family has played trivia pursuit for years. It’s fun but after awhile there is a limit to how many useless factoids we can endure. At some point we all want to connect with information that matters. The literal content or substance of what you are learning makes a difference. You have limited amounts of time, and I’m sure that you, like me, want to make it count.

• Strategic focus.

What are you learning that aligns with achieving your goals? What are you learning that helps you become a better leader? What are you doing that is new and improved in such a way that advances your church and helps those around you become more effective leaders?

• Creative energy.

What are you learning that is fun and keeps the creative juices flowing? I’m taking guitar lessons, something I’ve been doing off and on for a long time. One teacher popped off toward the end of a frustrating lesson (I just couldn’t get it) saying: “I sure hope you preach good!” OK, so I’m not a gifted musician, but it allows my creative side to stay fresh and alive. It’s a creative learning outlet that is fun and allows me to think in a very different realm.

• Intentional effort.

What are you learning that requires intentional effort, but it’s not mandatory that you master it? In other words, it’s not a required part of your job. For me, its technology. When the 12Stone staff read this part, they will snicker and make tons of wise cracks. Technology is not my specialty, but I’m going after it! The interesting thing about any learning pursuit is that you quickly demythologize the subject. When you look behind the curtain you realize there is so much that is attainable if you will make the effort. There are, of course, profound and complex levels of technology that I will never understand, but I don’t need to. Guys like our Tony Mimms, Steve Gimbert, Matt Haff, Doug Irvine and Josh Cash can lead the way! These guys, and others, are the wizards behind the curtain, and help the rest of us learn!

3. What you do with what you learn?

This is where the rubber meets the road. Application is everything. If you don’t use it, even by a lateral connection, what’s the point? When you attend a conference, for example, how did you learn, what did you learn and how are you applying it? Let’s be candid, if you are not applying it, why did you go? We live in an age with overwhelming amounts of information, but you don’t need it all. Here’s my suggestion. Try a little less input and a little more application and experience the difference.

Today I found iPhoto and Photo Booth on my Mac – next is Garage Band . . . soon I will be dangerous!

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen


Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.  ~Chinese Proverb


About Chris Sonksen

Chris Sonksen is the founder and Lead Pastor of South Hills Church and has an exceptional ability to inspire both secular and non-secular audiences. Under his leadership, South Hills has experienced phenomenal growth and in just a few short years has grown from a handful of people to nearly 3000 in attendance today. Today South Hills has become a thriving, multi-service and multi-site church. Chris has a magnetic, captivating and humorous style for motivating and inspiring all audiences. As a motivational speaker, he has spoken both nationally and internationally in companies such as Verizon, Securitas and Home Depot, and there is no doubt that by applying his teachings, his audience will improve the quality of their lives! Chris is the author of two books In Search of Higher Ground and Handshake. Chris is the founder of Celera Church Strategy Group an organization with an unwavering commitment to excellence in all things, with the goal to “raise the national average of church attendance,” by equipping church leaders with resources and coaching. Chris brings high-energy focus and a passion for vision and leadership to encourage and equip the local Church. Chris is a native Californian, born in Long Beach and currently resides in Corona with his wife, Laura and their two children, Grace and Aidan.

Posted on October 26, 2010, in Habits, Leadership, Personal Growth and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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