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Education
Jan 15, 2020

The Best Never Stop Learning

Sponsored Content provided by Robert Burrus - Dean , Cameron School of Business - UNC-Wilmington

This Insights article was contributed by Richard J. Walsh, Director 
UNCW’s Swain Center for Executive Education & Economic Development
 
We know from experience, that the best leaders never stop learning. Often, they seek out new opportunities to grow and help steer their organization toward growth and success. 
 
The most successful leaders start out each year with both a business plan and a personal growth plan. Yet, how do you develop a personal growth plan? 
 
For those leaders I coach, my answer is easy, yet challenging. Each new year is a time to take stock, to reflect on our business and our personal life. Re-connect with those who are most important in our life, and perhaps with someone we haven’t spoken to in a while. Forge new friendships with those who may think differently. Be of services to others in our community that may need our help. Reflect on our accomplishments, learn from our mistakes, and hopefully, determine our most important goals for the coming year.
 
Perhaps you’re thinking, that may be easier said than done.
 
Each year, we are afforded a precious gift, and that is the opportunity for a new beginning. A new year to grow our business, spend time with loved ones, friends, business colleagues and community. A chance to make time in our hectic schedules and a chance to slow down from our fast-paced lives. A chance to re-connect with those people and activities that are most important to us and others. 
 
I find myself the busiest I’ve ever been. What can I do differently?
 
My answer is simple, yet profound. Begin by taking better care of ourselves. Leadership studies show that most of us need to be more resilient; and resiliency is one of the best predictors for success. We need to be at our best to help prepare our teams and our organizations for the future. Yet, many of us struggle just to respond to day-to-day challenges or set-backs. In a recent study of over 1,000 global leaders, leadership challenges fell into four main categories: market forces, organizational agility, social networks through interpersonal connections and personal renewal. These challenges pre-occupy much of our time, and we often overlook personal renewal. 
 
Health studies have shown that most of us don’t make time for sleep, proper diet and exercise. Neuroscientists have researched that for us to be at our best, on average, we need eight hours of sleep. Medical experts, such as author Dean Ornish, MD recommends more plant-based foods in our diet. Sports psychologist Dr. Sharon McDowell encourages exercise in improving our overall, well-being.        
 
I seem to ruminate (or obsess) over past struggles. How do I learn from the past and set a new path for the coming year? 
 
Learn from the past, but don’t dwell too much on the past. Unfortunately, negative thoughts attract negative experiences. Instead, learn to attract positive experiences for us and our team. Reflect on what went well, and how to share our talents and experiences with others. Write down five things that went exceptionally well, and how to leverage those accomplishments. Explore how others seek our advice, whether on technical areas, past experiences or even personal character. 
 
Then, identify key themes, and make time to share our unique talents even more in the coming year. When we find ourselves replaying negative thoughts, read from our list of top accomplishments. Over time, our positive thoughts will overtake the negative, and we will notice a big difference. 
 
I often feel like I’m on a treadmill, doing the same things over and over again.
 
If so, I challenge leaders to review our calendars over the past year, and group our time into four or five key areas. Are we performing activities that pull from our unique strengths and talents? Or, do we find ourselves doing more routine activities, that perhaps others on our team can do? If it’s the latter, then let them do it. The most successful leaders free up time to focus on those things that bring unique value to our team or organization. Activities that can make the greatest impact.
 
Learn from our mistakes, but move forward.
 
To help, determine five things that didn’t go as well as we had hoped. Are their others who can support us, or past accomplishments we can apply to a challenging situation? Draw a road map, and decide on 3 or 4 actions we can take that will move us and our organization forward. Then focus on those most important actions. 
 
Often, we get so distracted by the urgent, we overlook the most important. As leaders, others look to us to help set priorities, and ensure future success. Set aside time to do just that, or said in another way, set aside time to think and act more strategically.  
 
In summary, the best gifts for ourselves are to take “some” time to recharge our batteries and focus on how we can bring the greatest value to our organizations, family, friends and community. Reflect on what went well, and determine any adjustments needed. Learn from our mistakes. Seek the advice of others, perhaps those who are different from us, and above all else, take good care of ourselves as we begin the new year. Perhaps last year wasn’t exactly a time of reflection or personal renewal. If so, plan time over the next few months to learn from our experiences and set a path to achieve our most important goals. After all, the best never do stop learning.

Robert T. Burrus, Jr., Ph.D., is the dean of the Cameron School of Business at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, named in June 2015. Burrus joined the UNCW faculty in 1998. Prior to his current position, Burrus was interim dean, associate dean of undergraduate studies and the chair of the department of economics and finance. Burrus earned a Ph.D. and a master’s degree in economics from the University of Virginia and a bachelor’s degree in mathematical economics from Wake Forest University. The Cameron School of Business has approximately 60 full-time faculty members and 20 administrative and staff members. The AACSB-accredited business school currently enrolls approximately 2,000 undergraduate students in three degree programs and 200 graduate students in four degree programs. The school also houses the prestigious Cameron Executive Network, a group of more than 200 retired and practicing executives that provide one-on-one mentoring for Cameron students. To learn more about the Cameron School of Business, please visit http://csb.uncw.edu/. Questions and comments can be sent to [email protected]. 
 

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