Although some very successful disruptive business leaders never finish college, most of them have at least a bachelor’s and sometimes a master’s degree. Quite a few go on to earn PhDs. Not unsurprisingly, a large number attend some of the highest-ranked universities in the world and benefit from a more traditional education.

Traditional education is a relatively planned-out process that consists of discreet but well-defined steps or modules that makes it easy to measure an individual’s progress and needs and decide what the best next step should be.  Such an education is usually the entry card to employment and a good career. It also provides us with our first experiences of learning to disrupt ourselves when we are prompted to replace less developed beliefs and mindsets with ideas that are more useful for creating the kind of future we want.

“Learning” on the other hand, is fluid and unpredictable and requires a high degree of comfort with and ability to disrupt oneself. If you’re truly committed to expanding your knowledge, capabilities and leadership style, you’ll find opportunities to learn and grow in just about everything, regardless of any formal education you’ve had. Your leadership team and staff will follow your example. It’s a mindset, not a series of planned-out steps.

It’s easy to see the difference between CEOs who are committed to continuous learning and those who aren’t.  Learning CEOs often run businesses that grow and flourish. Those who are less committed tend to make the same mistakes again and again and seem to go from one crisis to another. They also…

    • Get overwhelmed with the day-to-day tasks of keeping often-under resourced companies operating.
    • Disregard the importance of good strategic planning, resulting in a lack of agreement internally regarding what their company is providing and how they are providing it.
    • Often ignore other companies which have figured out better ways to fulfill on a similar value proposition.
    • May intellectually understand the principles of providing outstanding customer experiences, but don’t know how to successfully translate them into products, services, or experiences and/or can’t communicate the value proposition.
    • Are too frightened by excessive or unreasonable risks and the potential for massive failure.

When a CEO isn’t growing, the organization he leads isn’t growing either. Inevitably, these CEOs make themselves and their companies prime targets for disruption by a competitor, a new entrant into their market, the government or the company’s own customers. A big and potentially devastating disruption will probably happen with little prior warning If the CEO isn’t out in the world observing, debating and learning. He won’t see or will simply ignore potential threats.

The problem gets further compounded because our brains have natural limits. Even the most knowledgeable of us have brains that are not wired to be objective, especially not about ourselves. In fact, our brains are much better at denial – a trait that counter-intuitively actually helps us to survive.

This results in a lot of blind spots. It’s virtually impossible for any individual to see signs that they are not progressing or making mistakes; to recognize them for what they are. Human beings misread events and signals all the time, they misinterpret them, or they literally just can’t see them.

Executives committed to learning often hire objective third-parties, usually a coach, to help them be more objective. A good coach has the permission to dig down deep, find out what’s going on and call into question certain things a CEO is doing, challenging certain mindsets that may not be appropriate or growth oriented. A coach makes sure that nothing gets in the way of the kind of learning and growth that keeps a CEO and his company from falling victim to hazardous disruptions.