The Best Leaders are Learners

February 27, 2024

Breneil Malcolm

M.Ed. in Higher Education

Image of individual at a computer

Leaders are often portrayed and perceived as supreme beings, expected to be experts in all aspects of leadership. They’re expected to have all the answers, or know how to reach appropriate, quick and efficacious resolutions. However, these expectations that come with leadership positions, from both top-down and bottom-up hierarchies, are often unrealistic.

While leaders must have some levels of marked expertise, it’s important to remember that the best leaders are also learners, especially as sociopolitical and sociocultural landscapes continue to evolve.

Even if you’ve been leading a long time, there’s always capacity to improve and be a better leader. That’s where learning comes in, usually through three different methods: education, experience and ongoing professional development.


Education is often the pillar of professional leadership practice, especially within academic settings. Administrative leadership positions typically require, at minimum, a master’s degree and most positions require a terminal degree, often a Ph.D. While pursuing and securing advanced degrees can itself be a way to obtain higher leadership positions, it’s also valuable just for the knowledge that you obtain. And in some cases, it’s a combination of both. I recently decided to leave my position as an instructor to pursue my Ph.D. While I could have remained in my position and built a career there, I made this decision because I intrinsically want to know more about the topics that interest me.


When we look at leadership position postings, there is almost always an minimum number of years’ of required experience in addition to an educational requirement. This assumes that you’ve learned through your experience what’s necessary to excel in that particular position. While theoretical foundations are critical to position performance, typically attained through education, the practical applications of these theories are secured through professional experiences. There are several avenues for increasing experience, including paid full-time and part-time positions as well as volunteer and service opportunities. The avenue best for you to gain more experience will depending on the field and position of interest.

Professional Development

The third aspect of leadership learning entails ongoing professional development. This is always necessary, as the educational and professional structural dynamics in any field evolve with new knowledge and audiences. A theory or practice that was highly relevant 10 years ago may no longer be relevant based on current realities and demands. Some avenues for professional development include research, publications, conferences, and internal and external training opportunities. Again, the avenue best for you will vary, but all of them present opportunities for enhanced learning.

Leaders are learners. This is a fundamental part of leadership that we must explicitly acknowledge in creating more dynamic and healthy professional spaces.

Grow in your leadership journey through the leadership programs at American College of Education.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.
Breneil Malcolm
Breneil Malcolm, M.Ed. in Higher Education

Breneil Malcolm graduated from ACE with an M.Ed. in Higher Education, with a focus of study in Leadership. They are currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Learning, Design and Technology with Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at The Pennsylvania State University. Their research interests focus on diversity, equity and inclusion through the interdisciplinary frameworks of pedagogical, psychological and critical theories. Breneil has served as academic support faculty at St. George’s University for the past five years. While there, they managed an intensive feedbacking professional communication program and served as an instructor teaching learning strategy. Breneil’s goal is to leverage their doctoral research to secure a career in research and academia that enhances social justice for underrepresented groups.

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