Guest Article: Why CEOs need to keep learning — Royston Guest, Pti-Worldwide,

Business, Guest Feature, Management | Tue 17 Jul | Author – Business & Finance
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Lifelong learning is a key skill everyone needs – even CEOs

The external marketplace and business arena is constantly evolving. Changing dynamics in competitors, the digital revolution, new role definitions, and new regulatory frameworks supported by new legislation have redefined the ‘ability to learn’ as an essential skill.

Learning never stops – even for CEOs

Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, claimed that if Amazon lost the desperation it had when he founded it, there would be an “excruciating, painful decline” followed by the “death” of the online retailer. The billionaire laid bare the extent of his paranoia in Amazon’s annual letter to shareholders. Bezos, said Amazon is a “Day 1 company. Day 2 is stasis, followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”

CEOs must keep learning because of one word: Relevance

The relevance of the product or service the business provides. Its relevance as a provider of choice for customers. Its relevance when pitched against the competition. Its relevance as an employer of choice for their people. And to take it to a personal level, by asking the question; how relevant am I as a Leader?

The key for the relevant CEO today is leading people how they like to be lead not how you like to be lead. Different generations want different things from their employer. The structures and framework CEO’s have to now consider is not just about pay & reward, role title, annual reviews, job variety. There is a shift towards providing employee alignment with the mission & values of the organization, value adding on-going conversations, career development, work-life balance.

But how do CEOs keep on top of this in addition to the day job?

#1 A conscious and deliberate intent for learning

The WHY has to be strong enough. It is not viewed as an addition to the day job, but rather as an integral part of the day job.

The fresh, modern CEO’s are already there. They operate in a state of curiosity – the wonderful child-like instinct that for most is conditioned out of us as we age. They see everything they do on a daily basis as a learning opportunity. They read books or listen to audio books, they are great networkers, they accelerate their success through understanding the success principles of others and adopting, integrating into their own personal success formula. They read the business magazines and articles when travelling, they watch TED talks, they have their inner circle of confidents and advisors who they trust. They may have a business/performance coach or be part of a CEO forum of like-minded individuals. They proactively seek out opportunities to learn.

#2 An understanding of the saying ‘there are no crowds lining the extra mile’

It’s the place where you’re on your own. Just you and the road. Just you and the challenge, or vision, or goal you’ve set yourself, professionally or personally or both!

It’s the work you do behind closed doors when no one is watching.

It’s the extra brain power you put in to solve a particular task.

It’s the time taken out of a busy schedule to check the team are doing OK.

It’s the practice, the habits, the mindset you adopt, to make YOU the best YOU can be.

Every day, you decide how much effort you’re going to put in. A little, or what’s expected or the extra mile. I promise you, few choose the last option. It’s certainly not a crowded place. But it is often the place where the difference between good and great is made.

When someone’s great at something we’re in awe of it and them. It’s easy to assume they’ve got there because they’re special or lucky or have the right contacts. Usually it’s none of those things. It’s simply they put in the extra effort, willing to do more than was necessary.

#3 It’s a journey of ongoing improvement

It’s about asking the question; what have I learnt new today? Or more specifically What have I learnt new today which is going to help me to be even better tomorrow than I was today?  is a great starting point in maintaining relevance, ensuring you can be the best version of you and set yourself up to realize your personal and professional goals every day.

The opportunities are bountiful in terms of the ability to learn and develop. However, it’s about taking ownership and developing conscious awareness that to be the relevant CEO you have to take ownership for your own development. You have to put in place an ongoing plan to maintain your relevance and elite performance. Success is not an accident and every CEO is the architect of their own destiny with personal learning at the heart.

#4 By thinking ‘Outside in’ not ‘Inside Out’

Great businesses and their leaders think ‘outside in’, the customer is the focal point of everything they do and how they do it. They are fanatical about looking at themselves through their customers’ lens and culturally are self-challenging, forever asking probing questions;

  • How easy are we to do business with?
  • Are we delivering a world-class customer experience?
  • What business are we really in?

What business are you really in?

Now, here’s a simple exercise for you.

Write down your answer to the question: what business are you in? Don’t over analyse or over think your answer; it is not a trick question. Just capture your immediate response in black or white or worst case, imprint the answer firmly in your conscious mind.

Now, in my experience most people answer that question from one of three angles. First, they think they’re in the business dictated by the name of their business; second, the industry in which they operate; or third, the products or services they provide.

But actually, nothing could be further from the truth.

You see, I don’t think most people know what business they are really in.

Notice what impact the addition of one word has when you change ‘what business are you in?’ to ‘what business are you ‘really’ in?’ Your response to the first question will drive you down the road of answering the question from a logical perspective aligned to your industry or products and services you provide.

Your response to the second question creates an entirely different dynamic: great leaders think differently, they think ‘outside in’ as opposed to inside out. Adding one word ‘really’ to the question challenges you to go beyond the physical product or service you provide and delve deeper into the benefits your customer receives by choosing your products and services.

Now complete the exercise again but answer the question; what business are you really in? Simply changing the direction of your lens from ‘inside out’ to ‘outside will help you see your business through the eyes of your existing and prospective customers.

And I hope you agree, it has the potential to completely transform how you think about your business, and how you engage with employees, customers, shareholders, partners. But more importantly, it will help you understand and maintain your relevance.

Royston Guest is a global authority on growing businesses and unlocking people potential. He is CEO of Pti-Worldwide, author of #1 best-selling business growth book, Built to Grow and founder of livingyourfuture™. Follow him on Facebook or Instagram. Connect with him on LinkedIn or check out his weekly blog at