5 ways leaders can further their education, without getting an MBA

The best leaders are constantly learning. They seek out new challenges and question the status quo. While an MBA may make sense for some professionals looking to grow their careers, it's not necessary for all leaders. Below are five ways any leader can continue learning and developing in their role without pursuing an MBA.

• Find a mentor: Professionals who excel understand the importance of having someone in their corner as a mentor and advocate. Identify someone you admire and respect professionally. Build a relationship with someone who will challenge you, provide guidance and be a sounding board when you need it. It could be a fellow leader at your organization whose team is excelling who you want to learn from.

Or, an executive who is at a level you aspire to be at. In order to continue growing, leaders need someone who will advocate for them, give them honest feedback and push them to the next level.

• Gather 360 feedback: As a leader, you have to want to get the difficult feedback. You should want to know if a direct report doesn't feel supported or if your public speaking skills are lacking. Knowing those things will help you get better and improve. One of the best ways to get it is through 360 feedback. This could be through a formal 360 review process conducted by HR or an executive coach or just by having open and honest dialogue with direct reports. Show people you want to improve and want to hear the bad news. This is the only way to get better. Step outside your comfort zone and challenge yourself. Ask those who report to you, as well as peers and your boss. Gather feedback from anyone willing to share it.

• Tap into local universities: While an MBA or EMBA program can be expensive and time-consuming, many universities have continuing education or certification courses. It could be a weeklong leadership course, or a weekly night class to earn a certification. Ask those in your network what classes they've taken. Many local colleges will have certifications that don't require a large time investment. We're fortunate to live in the Chicagoland area with a multitude of great colleges and universities in the city and suburbs. Associations are another great resource for learning and development. There are associations for nearly every industry or professional, and they regularly host events and networking. You can learn a lot not only from the content shared, but the people you meet.

• Consult an expert: Sometimes it may make sense to look at an outside expert. Whether it's a media coach for developing your public speaking and interview skills, or an executive coach who is trained to help executives develop, think about what might make sense for your role. Hiring these types of experts can be costly, so do your research and make sure they provide knowledge and insight you won't get elsewhere.

• Know what works for you: Not everyone learns the same way. One person may be an audial learner and enjoy podcasts. Someone else may learn better through conversations and trial and error. Know your style and challenge yourself to identify new learning opportunities.

At the end of the day, how you learn doesn't matter, so long as you're continuing to seek out new information and grow in your role. It's about challenging yourself and staying curious about your field and career. It starts at the top. If you don't challenge yourself to continue learning and growing, how can you expect your staff to?

• Tom Gimbel is founder and CEO of the LaSalle Network.

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