Smart CEOs understand that the quickest path to success is the one where the team travels with you. Skill-building across the organization isn’t just good leadership, it’s good for leaders.

Professional development is a wise use of resources. Just be sure to make yourself part of the group. Your own growth shouldn’t be stunted because you’re supporting others. With an organization depending on your guidance, it’s more important than ever for you to have confidence in your judgment.

Discovering the right venues and carving out the time for learning can be a challenge. It’s easy to put a podcast or conference on hold with a thousand other things begging for attention.

Find the strength to turn away from the fires. They probably aren’t as critical as you think.  Delegate, defer, or temporarily disengage, and give yourself space. You may find solutions. And if you don’t, you will return to the problem with broader insight and perspective.

In the digital marketplace, failure to keep pace means falling behind. We got great advice on how to stay current from the leaders we interviewed for our Association 4.0™ books. They also had suggestions for finding like-minded colleagues with whom you can compare notes and share experiences. Their recommendations are user-friendly, good habits that don’t require significant effort or time.

Be a Student

Begin with the realization that learning never stops. Approaching leadership as a student rather than a teacher is one of the traits our contributors shared. We spoke with both association CEOs and entrepreneurs serving the community.

Lifelong learning was a common denominator, and each executive had a story about how they grew in their role. No one was an overnight success. The humility to acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers and to ask questions coupled with a healthy respect for the expertise of others, both above and below you is critical. Leading a successful business means improving yourself. Evolution is the essence of progress. Very little is perfect the first time out of the gate.

Our interviewees described success as a process of evaluation. They learned to understand what works, refined those strategies, and abandon what does not add value.

With every step forward, make time for assessment. Consider whether the vision you had two years ago is still inspiring enough to sell your mission without other bells and whistles. If it no longer moves hearts and minds, put a blank slate in front of you and have the courage to change.

Invest in Relationships

Taking risks is easier when you have people you can depend on for advice. Finding a group of trusted experts doesn’t happen by accident. Executive coaches and CEO circles can help leaders stay in tune with the larger business environment.

Taking risks is easier when you have people you can depend on for advice.

Joanna Pineda, CEO and Chief Troublemaker at Matrix Group International, Inc. explains her strategy like this: “I belong to a CEO peer group called Vistage. We meet once a month. Most of the members are running businesses larger than mine in very different industries, but our concerns are surprisingly similar.

Association executives are really lucky. They can take advantage of .orgCommunity’s forums and leadership circle groups where they can compare notes with executives who are on parallel journeys. The opportunity to share challenges, in confidence, with the brightest colleagues in the business is an invaluable resource.”

The idea that the CEO is responsible for the health of the organization has been reinforced throughout Pineda’s career. “Early in our relationship, my executive coach would remind me that every CEO gets the organization he or she deserves. If your employees aren’t working well together and your office is siloed, it may not be because you created these problems, but you are the person who is allowing them to happen.”

“Vistage contends that because the CEO has the biggest impact on the organization, he or she also is the person who needs to have the most expansive point of view and the broadest professional development.”   

Cultivate Diversity

Access to that variety of opinions puts business in a wide lens. We all like the sound of our own voices. But when you resist the tendency to reward people for thinking like you, you’re more likely to learn the truth or to expand the options for consideration.

Access to a variety of opinions puts business in a wide lens.

Associations have only recently embraced the rainbow. Boards tended to look like each other and, because they were professionally homogeneous, to have similar points of view. That insular approach is the antithesis of learning. It isolates you and your organization.

Pineda advises, “If you don’t have leaders with a range of professional backgrounds, there will not be a lot of new thinking. The average pharmacist, librarian, or dentist has limited experience with the challenges that are involved in running an association. It’s a good idea to include people from outside your organization’s playing field who can introduce different points of view and push the group forward.”

Charlie Judy, Chief People and Culture Officer at Intelligent Medical Objects, explains the growth potential in diversity like this: “We need to make outside experts an integral part of our organizations, even if they don’t have the same logo or the same email address. Third parties bring a fresh approach to the conversation. It’s important to stop being insular and cultivate an open attitude. Be willing to put heads together.”

Become a Reader

There is one super easy way to experience a world of opinions and learn from experts. If you aren’t already a reader, become one. If you are a book lover, keep expanding your library. So many of the leaders we interviewed described books that they rely on.

Roy Chomko, CEO of Adage Technologies, credits Gino Wickman’s book, Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business, with helping him to run Adage effectively. “For example,” he says, “our meetings of the leadership team weren’t systematic enough and didn’t occur on a regular schedule. Although we were following some of the steps, we hadn’t orchestrated our processes comprehensively. Our operations were too casual. That’s one thing that I’ve learned. You need a model.”

Books helped Sandy Marsico launch, Sandstorm Design, her company. Marsico, who is still an avid reader, recalls Sandstorm’s beginning like this: “I was 24 years old. I didn’t have grand plans. I just wanted to try and make enough money to avoid having a real job.” After Marsico called her parents and told them she was going to run a company, she bought some books. She taught herself how to code HTML, became a search engine optimization expert, and studied the steps in building a business from the ground up.

“I didn’t sleep,” she says. “I read everything I could, and then I designed and optimized my website.” Within 24 hours, Marsico landed her first client from a Google search. Sandstorm Design has grown from a one-person show to a global digital brand experience and technology agency.

Take it Easy

None of these activities are hard to organize or time-consuming. They are easy strategies that busy leaders can follow to ensure that while they are building their teams, they are also growing themselves. Read interviews with Roy Chomko, Charlie Judy, Sandy Marsico, and Joanna Pineda in Association 4.0™: An Entrepreneurial Approach to Risk, Courage, and Transformation.