We all have our own ways of measuring success in life and work. For Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, he asks himself a set of questions that, he says, "would have been laughable to me when I was 25."

Now 64, Gates says those questions are "much more meaningful." One of them should be a metric for anyone who is pursuing success: "Did I learn enough new things?"

Gates has maintained an incredible appetite for learning new things over the years. In an interview with The New York Times, Gates said he reads up to 50 books each year: "It's one of the chief ways that I learn, and has been since I was a kid."

Lifelong learning is essential for continuous growth and success. Gates' question is especially crucial if you're in the esteemed role of leader. In my observations over fifteen years of coaching leaders, the great ones are eager to learn and have a high drive for self-improvement and growth. 

Over the past few years, several noted leadership practices have captured my attention, as I seek to learn and grow my own capacity to lead. Here are some practices that may help you learn and grow into a better leader:

Learn to consider talent in older workers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and NPR, people are living longer and retiring later, and workers 65 and older are America's fastest-growing cohort. 

This means a growing number of Baby Boomers are re-entering the workforce while even more are staying in their current positions long into their golden years.

Plain and simple, this large, untapped demographic is being underutilized in our workforce, and they face higher rates of unemployment as a result.  

There are several reasons you should consider hiring older workers. For starters, they bring a level of experience, critical thinking, and sheer knowledge that is hard to teach younger generations. Older workers know what questions to ask, they have a strong work ethic, they stay in jobs longer, they typically take fewer days off, and they know how to get the job done right.

Mark Silverman, the CEO of Amava, points to Boomers as eager up-skillers, identifying many as "lifelong learners and self-starters, so it's no surprise that they are mastering new workplace tools and taking advantage of opportunities to keep their skills sharp."

Silverman notes that Boomers have gotten the memo that diverse perspectives, styles, and skill sets make for interesting, healthy and productive workplaces. Despite the recent negative memes, they actively swap knowledge and experiences with their colleagues, enhancing the overall work environment.

For employers, the rules and opportunities have evolved, but one thing remains the same: ultimate success is dependent on attracting and retaining the best people. That includes talented, focused workers of all ages, including Boomers.

Learn from "reverse mentors."

It's no secret many companies struggle to retain younger talent. In response to these challenges, large companies around the world are trying out reverse-mentoring programs to great success.

Historically, mentoring has been reserved for more senior professionals, who are tasked with showing the ropes to younger, less experienced mentees. That's entirely appropriate, and there will always be a role for that type of mentorship.

But in the late 1990s, GE's Jack Welsh implemented reverse-mentoring for 500 of his top senior executives to teach them about technology and the internet.

Over the years, reverse-mentoring has evolved beyond sharing knowledge about technology to sharing fresh approaches to strategy, leadership, culture, and engagement.

The benefits of reverse-mentoring programs are numerous, including higher retention of younger workers. The evidence shows Millennials gravitate toward more transparent managers who seek input from people throughout the organization on key decisions. Now, we're finding more managers and execs seeking input from their mentees to connect with employees, discuss organizational dilemmas, and solicit employee feedback on major issues.

When bosses seek out and listen to their younger employees, they will respond with increased loyalty, respect, and commitment to the organization.

In this social era, open-minded leaders are catching on to the advantage of learning from reverse mentors who hold expertise in unfamiliar terrain. These leaders are open to new ideas, and they leverage reverse-mentor relationships as a work strategy.

Learn and practice the power of curiosity.

Albert Einstein famously said, "I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious."

Harvard Business Review reports that people with a higher "curiosity quotient" (CQ) are more inquisitive and generate more original ideas, and this "thinking style" leads to higher levels of knowledge acquisition over time. CQ, the author states, "is the ultimate tool to produce simple solutions for complex problems."

Several other studies suggest curious people have better relationships, connect better, and enjoy socializing more. In fact, other people are more easily attracted and feel socially closer to individuals that display curiosity.

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Paradis, former president of Florida Hospital's (now Advent Health) Central Region, a $4 billion company with more than 25,000 employees. The facility was ranked the No. 1 hospital in the nation three years in a row by U.S. News and World Report under Brian's leadership.

Brian has recently authored a book, Lead with Imagination, about the essential qualities to transform organizations. In the book, Brian writes that imagination and curiosity, when applied to the art of leadership, have the ability to unleash untapped potential in yourself and those around you.

He believes every company must create a culture of curiosity. Why? By being willing to explore and ask questions, leaders are able to see more clearly the nuances of a challenge and reach better outcomes.

Too often, efficiency drives us to stop asking questions, as we think we already have the answers. Brian shares that by building in a framework that allows curiosity, important insights can be discovered.

Try this: Next time you meet with your team members, seek out a new perspective or idea about an ongoing strategy. Try following up with interesting questions, and be mindful to activate the genuine curiosity within you.

Published on: Feb 18, 2020
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