Setting your 2022 goals? Choose competitive learning for personal development


Editor’s Note: Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson writes a column exclusively for WRAL TechWire on entrepreneurship, leadership, equality and opportunity. His columns appear on Wednesdays.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions, but I believe in continuous self-improvement. If you read this column often, you may already know that I often describe myself as a competitive learner, and that quality is something I look for in others as well. This means that I like to surround myself with friends, colleagues, advisors and employees who not only exhibit a growth mindset, but who participate in learning as if it was a sport, constantly pushing himself for a personal best.

Starting next month, I’ll dive into the most important leadership trends of 2022 with actionable tips on how to incorporate these trends into your daily leadership behavior. Follow me and you’ll notice a theme: competitive learning is the centerpiece of personal development. With this theme in mind, today I want to share a repost of a previous column I wrote on this topic.

If you find it useful, contact me on LinkedIn. I always seek to develop my network with people committed to their own development and open to what new learning could lead them. OK, let’s go.


Competitive learning is similar to learning agility, which harvard business review defines as thequalities and attributes that enable an individual to remain flexible, grow from mistakes, and meet a wide range of challenges. In other words, learning agile means being open to change and ready to go where a great idea might take you.

Competitive learning is learning agility more jostling. It means actively and relentlessly seeking information, challenges and opportunities for growth. Like any sport, competitive learning also means that you are always competing to be better than yourself. It means training, growing and winning on game day because you’ve done the prep work. To do this, you must prioritize your personal development and remain open to new ideas and learning opportunities, no matter where they come from.


In this rapidly changing marketplace, competitive learning is a leadership imperative. As business leaders, our business success depends on our ability to innovate quickly, synthesize information, make strong decisions with limited scope, and constantly evolve. We can’t know which skills will make the critical difference in success every day, so we must stay alert and continually seek out new and stronger ideas. We must constantly update our personal skills to keep pace with the global digital market and immediately apply the knowledge we have learned to activate change and critical thinking.

Here are four key traits that define a competitive learner.

  • A competitive learner is like a cup of coffee

You know that moment after ordering coffee, when the person behind the counter asks if you want room for cream? This is the moment I want you to remember when thinking about being a competitive learner. A competitive learner has strong opinions and ideas but always leaves room for new information. Being like a cup of coffee means driving for the change you want, but with a healthy dose of humility and respect for the contributions of others. It means being strong-willed without being stubborn, assertive but not aggressive, self-assured and confident but also open to new ideas.

  • A competitive learner insists on efficiency

As a leader, you have no time to waste. Competitive learning should enhance your productivity, not take away from it, so look for ways to incorporate learning and growth moments into your daily life. For me, that means listening to podcasts while I drive or exercise, watch microvideos between meetings and actively searching for a printable page or infographics that I can keep handy for repeated reference.

I like to balance more traditional learning like professional courses and certifications with micro-learning throughout the day. What I know from experience is that I often learn best if I can dig deeper into a certain topic and then reinforce the new information with interspersed micro-learning. Indeed, according to G2 Learning Centerresearch proves that microlearning leads to deeper understanding and up to 80% better retention of information, providing a better return on investment for your time and money.

A competitive learner shares his knowledge freely

Some leaders keep their knowledge close to their chest, believing the value of their contribution is the depth and breadth of what they know. I would say that the value of your leadership is more your execution and your experience. Information is the starting point, but execution makes the difference. Think of a recipe from your favorite cookbook. Just because you know the ingredients and the steps to follow doesn’t mean you’ll have a perfect technique.

To cultivate a greater culture of learning, inclusion, and information sharing, share what you learn, openly and often. Also look for ways to pay for your apprenticeship. This will help you build trust and communicate an expectation of learning agility and continuous growth within your organization. By sharing what you know, you give everyone a chance to grow and change alongside you.

  • A competitive learner is an expert in collaboration

Competitive learners dominate a room by being the best facilitator, not the loudest voice. They believe wholeheartedly that “the best idea wins,” so they look for ways to encourage collaborative thinking. Often, it’s the top performers who have the hardest time collaborating. They believe in the value of their individual contribution but often cannot get others to contribute.

Being a competitive learner means actively fostering a culture of teamwork, critical thinking, and inclusion. This means making sure the right people are in the room, then listening and respecting their input. Hire and surround yourself with people who inspire and challenge you to grow. These people will be your greatest resource for new information, ideas and innovation.

By developing our own capacity for competitive learning, we set the tone for a growth-oriented culture that expects and rewards continuous improvement. As I heard from so many of my C-suite colleagues, the key to transforming their corporate culture was their own personal development example. Don’t underestimate your own power.

About the Author

Donald Thompson is an entrepreneur, speaker, author, podcaster, Certified Diversity Executive (CDE) and executive coach. With two decades of experience growing and leading businesses, he is a thought leader on achieving goals, influencing company culture and driving exponential growth. He is also co-founder and CEO of The diversity movementa results-driven, data-driven strategic partner for organization-wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives, was recently appointed to the Inc. Magazine 2021 Best in Business List in DE&I Advocacy. Donald is a board member of several organizations in marketing, healthcare, banking, technology and sports. Donald’s autobiography and leadership guide – Underrated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success – will be released in 2022. Connect with him on LinkedIn and to


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