Humans are always learning. New technology. A new passcode. Someone’s name. Some random historical facts. When it comes to the workplace, 54% of people believe that continuous learning is essential to their career development. But not everyone is a relentless learner. This type of learning doesn’t happen by accident. Nor is it by mandate of HR. It’s the mark of a special type of person.

Consider a hypothetical situation: You have the choice of hiring two identical people, exactly equal in every respect, except one is a relentless learner and one is not. Is there an advantage to hiring the relentless learner? If you believe that there is, of course you’re right. But why? In this article, we will explore the topic and provide a clearer understanding of the term relentless learner, and explain why it is a critical capability to look for in your next leader.

What is a Relentless Learner?

Relentless learners go beyond waiting for life to serve up a lesson or hoping for an opportunity to learn something new. It’s not just about reading the latest business bestsellers or listening in on a webinar. They actively look for the lesson in all of life’s happenings. They learn even the hard lessons, even when it may not be convenient to do so. They may not learn the lesson the first time around. Sometimes it takes a few flops to get to the right result. 

Ever hear of the company Traf-O-Data? Probably not. That’s because it was a Bill Gates company that failed. But relentless learners such as Gates take lessons from their worst failures and keep moving ahead. Sure, how bad can a failure be at age 17, but everything is relative. 

Relentless learners are curious. They always want to know more, asking questions until they get what they need, at least for the moment. They’ll put themselves in situations, even at the expense of personal vulnerability, where they are forced to learn and grow. Relentless learners never hold back their curiosity or nod knowingly when they really don’t understand. 

Why Relentless Learning Is Important

It’s important to hire relentless learners. It’s one of the essential characteristics of all the leadership traits. Relentless learning offers countless benefits to personal and professional development. Those who continually learn find that they are more creative and intelligent. 

According to a University of California study, learning optimizes brain cells and can help limit the cognitive decline associated with aging. Other psychological studies say that learning can help stave off depression and allow you to remain fulfilled throughout your life. 

Why Hire Relentless Learners?

Beyond the clear advantages to individuals, companies that hire relentless learners benefit as well. Relentless learners are passionate about what they do and are visible and vocal representatives of your organization. They can help the company achieve the following:

  • Maintain its relevance by staying on top of recent technological, environmental and regulatory developments
  • Anticipate movement in the marketplace and among your competitors
  • Bring positive attention to the company through their continued involvement in the industry, social media and the community at large
  • Develop others by being curious and taking an active interest in what they do and how they contribute
  • Bring fresh perspectives to the company through their pursuit of the latest news and information
  • Be a role model for others to continue learning and growing to meet emerging challenges in the future

How Can You Identify the Trait during an Interview?

Relentless learners happily give themselves away. They talk about seeking information, asking questions, reading books and listening to podcasts. When you ask them how they would handle an unfamiliar challenge, they will explain to you how they would gather more information. They listen carefully to contrarian viewpoints and ask for clarification without attacking. They are grateful for life’s lessons, even when things don’t go their way. Understanding how little they really know, they cultivate mentors.

Everyone doesn’t have the same career opportunities. And many people, once they leave university, are quite happy not to have to endure another mind-numbing lecture. Fortunately, with today’s highly accessible educational resources, there are many ways to learn that don’t involve running a cross-functional team or sitting in a classroom, for that matter. These include both nonfiction and fiction reading, online courses, podcasts and webinars, professional development workshops, seminars, conferences and speeches. 

When it comes to hands-on experience, relentless learners can find a lesson in almost every experience, whether it is from raising a family to dishing up plates at the homeless shelter. If a potential hire for your company hasn’t found a way to continue to develop intellectually, they simply aren’t interested.

Questions That Relentless Learners Love

If you still don’t know whether the person you’re interviewing is a relentless learner, look at their career path. Have they progressed or have they been doing the same job for the past five years? Also, you can ask a few questions, such as the following:

What have you failed at? What did you learn?

What the answer reveals: Relentless learners find the gold nuggets in their failures so that they can apply them to future success. Those who are not relentless learners find excuses.

It sounds like you have perfected your skills in this field. Now what?

What the answer reveals: Even relentless learners who are very proud of a particular skill understand that there is much more to discover. They should bristle at the word “perfect” and tell you how they will continue to improve.

Tell me about a time you took a risk. How did you feel about it and what did you learn?

What the answer reveals: Relentless learners aren’t afraid to take risks. They understand that even if they fail, they will still have learned something.

Tell me about a time you asked for feedback and what you were told.

What the answer reveals: It takes a hearty soul to ask for feedback. Relentless learners do it because they want to improve. Many of them have a mentor or two who they can rely on to give them the unvarnished truth.  

A Core Principle of the Y Scouts Leadership Model

At Y Scouts, we believe in relentless learners. In fact, it is one of the three principles of our Y Scouts Leadership Model, along with developing others and driving results. This model is part of our core values. We encourage our leaders to live these values so that they are an integral part of everything that we do. 

When we work with you to find your next executive, our values are central to the search. We know that not just any person can fill a leadership seat at your company. Contact Y Scouts today to learn more.