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Openness to continuous learning: one of the most important leadership skills

[Editor’s note: This post is part of a series that brings together reflections from a year-long leadership strengthening programme that Grupo Faro (Ecuador) and ASIES (Guatemala) jointly carried out with Enrique Mendizabal and Vanesa Weyrauch as mentors.]

I entered this project full of enthusiasm due to the openness of two leading organisations in their respective countries, which despite their good reputation and earned success in different levels, acknowledged that they needed help to go through a process of strengthening their leadership capacities. They decided to jointly walk this path, with the additional commitment to share what they learned with peer institutions (thus the creation of this project page).

dialogue learning smallMany executive directors express that it is important and necessary to further develop leadership capacities in their organisations. However, despite a genuine interest in that sense, some fail to make progress as much as they would like due to lack of resources (e.g. experts to help them, relevant and practical knowledge or advice, funds to participate in valuable training activities). Others, when faced with making concrete changes required by this type of processes, get stuck along the way, conduct minor changes, or simply adapt these to their comfort zone.

In the case of ASIES and FARO and as their mentors we could count with open leaders, willing to be further challenged in the search of new horizons and answers. They were prone to face issues that might provoke some discomfort and unease in their organisations, and to pose questions without fear of showing their doubts or lack of knowledge. This is well reflected in two key decisions made within the project and that were rapidly embraced by their protagonists: the first one was to conduct a self-assessment of their leadership capacities (the tool to perform this is available here in Spanish) by asking not only staff members for their views on this but also their board members. This denotes their strong willingness to understand how others regard current leadership (with its strengths and weaknesses), what others expect from those who are leading the organisation with the goal of initiating a collaborative and collective process of reflection and change.

The second decision that reveals their openness to learn was their decision to invest resources in researching experiences and practices from peer organisations to deal with challenges similar to those prioritized by them. Even though peer assistance and learning is often pointed out as an important need there are still very few cases of organisations who decide to invest money and time in detecting and understanding how others have solved similar problems, so that they can count with good evidence (and sometimes a source of inspiration or warning as well!) to make the decisions they need to make.

Even though the project has not ended yet, we can already conclude that one of its major strengths has been in gearing up a capacity that was not explicitly included in the change plan that each organisation developed but which is key when thinking about the future leaders of think tanks: to learn from and with others. And learn in a way that enables sharing that knowledge and using it critically and strategically, knowing at the same time that one will need to continue learning when that knowledge is applied in the field.