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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

Focus, Humility - Learning and Acting

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #147

Occasionally, a person sees or reads something that triggers the inclination to give it more thought. That happened to me twice in one week! My mental workouts of these two experiences are the topics of this week's edition of Leadership Thoughts. As you read about my two thought-provoking experiences, I encourage you to consider how each might apply to your leadership.

Since 2017, I've been participating in the cardio maintenance program at the local hospital. Three days a week at 7 a.m. I do a series of exercises. I like it there because there is no silent competition about who can lift the most or walk the fastest. Last Friday, on my way out of the hospital, I passed the nurse's station and saw a post on a small whiteboard that read, "Focus, stay humble." That simple message made me consider what the words might mean to leadership.


One of the critical qualities of a successful leader is their ability to remain focused. A focused leader sets clear goals and works diligently to achieve them without being easily swayed by distractions. Stephen Covey, the author of Seven Habits of Effective People, coined, "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing." Effective leaders communicate their objectives to their team, ensuring everyone is aligned and working towards the same goal. The prompt to focus, as emphasized in a message written on a whiteboard above a nurse's station, is a constant reminder to stay on task and not let other things divert our attention.

Stay Humble

Possessing humility is essential for effective leadership. It makes leaders more relatable, approachable, and empathetic towards their team members. When leaders are humble, they are open to receiving feedback and admitting their faults, which can cultivate a workplace environment based on trust and transparency. By recognizing their limitations, they can create a safe space where everyone feels free to voice their ideas and thoughts. This often leads to more creative solutions and beneficial results for the entire team.

The phrase "stay humble" written on the whiteboard can have multiple interpretations. For leaders, it should be a reminder to maintain empathy and kindness in their work, even when faced with challenging situations. It's a cue to prioritize the needs of others over their egos. In addition, it encourages us to be open to learning from others and to admit when we need help or don't have all the answers. Ultimately, "stay humble" is a call to action for leaders to strive for excellence in their personal and professional lives, both for themselves and those they serve.

The second "aha" moment experience was activated as I read a newsletter from Modern Learning titled "Educators, Are we Lifelong Learners" written by Missy Emler. Although the article was written with educators in mind, the insight I gained also applies to leaders.

Lifelong Learning

We've all heard and have said learning is a lifelong journey, but are you truly engaged in acquiring new skills and knowledge? A leader must never stop learning; to do so would mean they should no longer be leading. According to the Ivey Business Journal, effective leaders constantly develop their skills and character. They continuously learn about themselves, their relationships, and their careers, always striving to become the best leader they can be. A truly great leader is constantly evolving, adapting, and improving. When a leader ceases to learn, they cease to lead. As Rick Warren puts it, "The moment you stop learning, you stop leading."

"The moment you stop learning, you stop leading."


The owner of Modern Learning, Missy Emler, has always said, "We aren't asking you to change; we are just asking you to learn, but if we don't act on the learning, what is the point." This statement by Missy is so insightful! I've spent years studying why organizational change is difficult and often doomed to failure. This statement brings a new perspective to negotiating the change process.

The phrase "we aren't asking you to change, we are just asking you to learn, but if we don't act on the learning, what is the point?" suggests that the leader is urging the listener to acquire knowledge and understanding, rather than demanding a shift in behavior or attitude. However, the leader must also stress the significance of implementing that learned information. The leader must communicate that learning holds value only when it leads to action. Leaders remind people to be receptive to new ideas and willing to expand their understanding while highlighting the importance of implementing what they have learned. Ultimately, this statement emphasizes the interconnectedness of learning and acting, with one without the other being incomplete.

In this blog post, I discuss two important factors contributing to effective leadership: staying focused and remaining humble. I share my thoughts on what these qualities mean for leaders. Additionally, I explore the relationship between learning and acting, as it is essential for driving meaningful change. If reading this blog can be considered a form of learning, the question remains: how do you apply that knowledge and act on that learning?

Here are a few prompts for self-reflection:

  1. Can you describe how you have maintained your focus on your goals and avoided getting sidetracked?

  2. What do the concepts of focus and humility signify to you regarding leadership?

  3. In what ways do you actively engage in continuous learning?

  4. Do you put into practice what you learn when it is appropriate?


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