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How Do Leaders Learn? By Dr. John R. Frank

 I was pondering this question recently as I looked at some things in my personal ministry timeline.

When I was in my 20’s I lead teams of young people on musical ministry tours across the U.S. and around the world. We performed a concert every night and two on Sundays in the U.S.  When we were overseas we went behind the Iron Curtain to the underground church. During these tours I was responsible for the musical leadership, group and individual spiritual conditions, and overall tour leadership. With 35 people on the tour, aged 16-25, I was also responsible for bringing young people from different spiritual backgrounds into a ministry team ready to sing, serve, and grow in the Lord over a 3 month tour.

  • So what did I learn from the experiential leadership?
  • Did that make me a better leader?

Another leadership learning tool:  I, probably like you, own around 30 books on leadership. These all share a “new” leadership concept that is going to change the world. Seriously, they are usually a concept that the author has used in their own lives. Sometimes the concept or model is accepted immediately, (Achieving Excellence by Tom Peters) and other times it can be an idea that stands the test of time, (Drucker books).  I read them, am encouraged or inspired, and then I try to apply them to my leadership situations.

  • So can reading impact my leadership?
  • Does studying books on leadership make me a better leader?

And another leadership learning tool: I attended the Center for Creative Leadership as part of an Executive Leadership program with the Christian Management Association. It was an amazing and intense week. My leadership methods and styles were examined in every way and angle possible. It was a wonderful and painful experience. I was forced to look at what others thought of my leadership, both strengths and weaknesses.  I was observed in situations going through tests and models of leadership. At the end of the week I was encouraged and challenged in my understanding of good leadership, and where I was on my leadership journey.

  • So can going through an intensive leadership training program make me a better leader?
  • Did the experience, tests, observations, and role-playing give me new and improved leadership tools?

A final leadership learning tool: I have attended conferences and institutes with leadership speakers for over 30 years. I have been to international, national, and regional conferences. I have listened to speakers who have had successful leadership experiences that included turning ministries around, starting a new ministry from the ground up, or transitioned a troubled organization through change. I have been inspired by leadership speakers that have the gift of inspiration and humor. I have also have learned new things from authors who are sharing key components of their new books.  And I also have been very bored by many leadership speakers!

  • So, once again, does listening to a proven leadership speaker, or author make me a better leader?
  • Can I learn how to be a better leader by listening to a successful leader?

As you probably have concluded, all of these leadership learning situations have impacted me and my leadership.  Whether cerebrial or experiential learning, all have allowed me to learn about my leadership and how I apply the principal or tool into my leadership life. Now the question is for your personal application.

  • How do you learn as a leader?
  • Are you a cerebrial, book learner?
  • Do you need to experience your own leadership mistakes in order to grow?
  • Do you like to listen to accomplished leaders and then emulate their success?
  • I am not sure this is a profound blog, but it is worth the self-examination to ask your self as a leader – how do I learn?
  • How do I improve, grow, change, and refine my leadership?

Through this self-exam you are learning about leadership yourself. How you learn about yourself as a leader is good stewardship. The steward leader should be learning how to learn for your entire life. But there may also be situations that do not help you. They may be an impediment to your leadership growth. Knowing this can be helpful as well.

Knowing “how” you learn may open the door to increased learning!  And we can agree that a learning leader is always the goal.


Dr. John R. Frank, CFRE is the founder and president of The Frank Group and the Steward Summit. You can contact him at


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