Solving the Problem of Dumb Leaders
Maxwell said, “Leaders are learners.”
The trouble with learning is unlearning.
The trouble with learning is it changes past thinking. Learning amplifies, modifies, or invalidates past learning.
The trouble with learning is rethinking. New thoughts evaluate old thoughts. Learning tests old assumptions, strategies, or methods.
The trouble with learning is being wrong.
All learners inevitably say, “I was wrong when I thought the earth was flat.”
- If you can’t be wrong, you can’t learn.
- If you can’t learn, you can’t grow.
- If you can’t grow, you’re compost.
Those who can’t learn become history lessons for learners. Don’t be like Kodak, for example.
- Welcome awkward and uncomfortable questions from underlings and outsiders. Insiders seldom put you on the spot. You sign their pay checks and impact their career.
- Explore the assumptions of others. Learning leaders assume the assumptions of others. Try getting in the head of someone else and defending their position. You never learn when all you do is defend what you know.
- Read every day.
- Ask, “What if?” often.
- Journal. Record and reflect upon what you learn.
- Adapt and change. Name one thing you’ve changed in the last few months. You haven’t learned till you change, regardless of what you know.
- Draw out thoughts and ideas from others. How is the idea-flow around you? Is your closed mind closing their mouths?
Bonus: Never fall back on, “When I was young we …”
Next step learning:
“Before you become a leader, success is all about growing you. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” Jack Welch
Leadership is about others. The most important thing leaders learn is how to grow others.
What hinders leaders from being learners?
How can leaders grow others?
Although I’m a life-long learner and avid for knowledge, I have just one caveat about learning…
Learning doesn’t mean changing one’s values. It is tempting in today’s post-modern world to try to accomodate all people so that no one is wrong or right. Some equate “progressive” with “willing to compromise to be all-inclusive”. We would not want to break the laws of aerodynamics or physics to accomodate new thinking if it could cause accidents. The same is true of right and wrong.
True leaders learn about things, learn about people, are willing to change to accomodate learning. They hold fast to values, however, and only change when convinced they have been completely wrong. It is not for nothing the term “moral compass” was coined…
The important point you raised in learning is unlearning. In the process, being wrong is good step. It is good step as long as we accept it. But when we do not accept it, we stop learning. I agree that leaders are learners. This learning depends upon attitude and character. Some accept it enthusiastically, some arrogantly and some do not want be wrong. The speed of unlearning determines the learning and attitude of a leader. I feel, dumb leaders should accept mistake and do not worry about not making mistakes. And this attitude hinders leaders from being learners. Those who do not make mistake, do not get opportunity to learn.
And in this way, leaders can grow others by showing path of leadership. Path of leadership is not perfection, but just effort better than before. Moreover, leaders believe in following path that is right. They are not influenced by other factors. And therefore, I always believe that the greatest strength of any person or leader is its belief. Belief of believing in self that I can do it.
I need to say that leadership has turned into a profession in our time. True leaders do not exist anymore, because the whole environment got way to complex and Leader is shared on multiple levels rather than being an earned by merit position. Society hinders leadership.
the power of example isn`t enough this days – vizavi “Those who can’t learn become history lessons for learners.” – So this is certainly not an option neither a method to teach others because everybody is in such a hurry to make mistakes and learn by their own experience. I think that leaders could grow others if he would promote the image of a “father” rather than being the tip of a management iceberg.
Well, some would be of the opinion Leaders are jerks! Some are! LOL Are they Learners??? Who knows!
I, Dan can’t say I can find anything wrong with learning, just people not willing to take a look at their paradigms and see they no longer make any sense. The world was round all along but for whatever reason the “Leaders” at that time in history had a vested interest in keeping everything dumbed down. Easier to herd the sheep that way, maybe.
Don’t think its a problem learning changes the past thinking, that is the GREAT thing about it. People for their own personal security issues do not want to really question what they think they know. What they feel they believe.
I question everything, relentlessly, constantly.
Every advance in medicine lets say benefitted us all, right? The Dr’s who had the old ideas that were found out to be rubbish probably didn’t think so. Ugh the human ego can be a terrbile thing.
Had an interesting conversation with a gal yesterday and it was very interesting. I know a lot about this particular issue, she doesn’t. I do not believe any of it AFTER years of researching. She hasn’t researched any of it but led me to believe none of that, you know the historical facts and what not, then she used a word I won’t use here to let me know, none of that stuff matters, you just have to believe.
Ok, not a very persuasive way of sharing her side of the conversation. Blind faith is still blind. Think we got a four pound mass of matter between our ears for good reason, to use it.
What I find is some folks are thinking they are open-minded learners but certain areas are not open to he discussion. Ooopsie!
Know it might just be me but I can’t get the idea of a little bit pregnant. Anyone, Anyone, Bueller? Mind either open or not.
What I have learned about growing others is I can lead by example but the decision or not to grow is up to each individual. Really a kinda thing between them and their maker.
I learned over many years wanting people to sober up I wanted that for them more than they did. I accepted I am powerless over people places and things and things unfold. Think that goes generically into other areas in life.
Best thing I have figured out so far is I can work on getting my own house in order and that is a lifelong pursuit. I can be open to share with others if they are willing to ask. Being an example is about as far as I am willing to take it because if not I get into the expectation others ought to do what I think is best for them. How selfish is dat?
I can help and share but beyond that live and let live.
Alfie Kohn (Punished by Rewards) summed this whole thing up perfectly and questioning everyting:
“There is a time to admire the grace and persuasive power of an influential idea, and a time to fear its hold over us.
The time to worry is when the idea is so widely shared that we no longer even notice it; when it is so deeply rooted that it feels to us like plain common sense.
At the point when objections are not answered any more because they are no longer even raised, we are not in control.
We do not have the idea. It has us.”
Challenging post; thanks for helping me learn and unlearn a few things today.
Just for context, the passionate conversation I was having with that gal yesterday was if UNC or Duke was a better choice if kid wanted to get to the NBA.
If anyone googles and researches the answer is crystal clear! Go HEELS!
Also I know of a person who cannot spell very well. I know of someone taking the time each day to spell out 10 with him every workday, first thing in the morning.
I know of someone who bought them a thesaurus out of their own pocket.
The one thing this person I know trying to help this person become a better speller is to have that guy have a burning desire to become a better speller himself. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them thirsty.
Yeah, there have been a few good NBA stars who have gone to Dook, but check out the banners in the Smith Center and it should leave no doubt.
But with the one and done state of things these days, it sure makes a lot less of a “good point.” One year at Dook or Carolina or Kentucky will make only a little bit of impact on a player’s skills…
But who is a better leader, Roy or Kruz-Zoo-ski? Up for discussion…
Easy!!! Ole Roy! Can’t beat a good ole NC Mountain boy!!!
The trouble with learning is the realization that the more you know the more you know how little you know.
The trouble with learning is being(partially) wrong. the trouble with being wrong is that is no more possible to a) pretend to be superior b) impose to the team the leader point of view and require the team always doing the right thing: what the inflexible boss commanded.
The trouble with learning is being inefficient and exposing himself to risk and criticism.
an organization is made for being efficient at doing stuff they learned to do, minimizing risks.
to solve the “Problem of Dumb Leaders” we need an environment where command and control simply can’t work because of the very nature of the field.
Great points as always Dan, have a great Sunday!
If we want to be great leaders, we must continue learning; we have to be open to new ideas and perspectives. It’s necessary to admit that we’re wrong sometimes so that we can grow. Great post!
“A Desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world” is a quote I took from a John LeCarre book dozens of years ago and it is absolutely true when it comes to the dangers of isolation and leadership.
Leaders need to step back from the wagon. Leaders need to MBWA and walk and listen. They tend to do too much Yelling and Telling and not nearly enough engaging and listening.
I tell a long story and joke with the punchline that, “It’s Dangerous to know The Answer. That’s THE as in “Duh!” ” The simple reality is that once the leader comes to know How Things Work, that become the single reality in their thinking and they will be unable to consider other options.
See some thinking on this if you google “Teaching the Caterpillar to Fly,” a long article on identifying the realities around change and the future of things.
One of my favorite instructors at PSU (no Ph.D. by choice), taught us some of the best lessons. One in particular that I held onto was the day he came into class and said, “No matter how smart you are, you need to know that you don’t know $4!+.”
He went on to explain that the knowledge we gained at that fine institution would be useless if we thought too much of it. If we walked out the door and thought we knew it all, the real world was out there waiting to prove us wrong.
He finished his “before we get into the authorized lesson” sermon with this thought.
Knowledge is power,
Confidence is knowing what you know,
Wisdom is knowing what you don’t know.
You become useful to the world only when you have all three in equal measure.
Humility was a separate lesson.
#5: Always journal. Trying to learn from the wrong inputs will lead to the wrong conclusions.
As a platoon commander in Iraq and Afghanistan I always kept journal. When my platoon was on guard duty, I used the time off to go through my journals and reflect upon what worked and why and what needs improvement.
Keeping journal allowed me to recall details I would probably have missed otherwise.
Could I have learned without my journal? Probably. However, trying to learn form the right facts improves the probability of reaching the right conclusions.
Not everyone who is called a leader is also a learner. Better leaders are learners, though, regardless of what they are called or what their title is. I most appreciate the lines that say, “The trouble with learning is rethinking. New thoughts evaluate old thoughts. Learning tests old assumptions, strategies, or methods.” As we learn new things, we have to change or evolve in our thinking. As Marc writes above, learning doesn’t have to mean changing our values, but it may mean changing our perspective, being able to see another person’s point, or being able to change our approach.
Great Post! I would add: Before we were Leaders, it was all about how we were “Socialized”. Now, it is all about how we are “Socializing” others!
As a future leader this article comes in very handy for me – Thanks Dan!
I guess I’m like a lot of people, I hate change. But I notice when I totally embrace it, I’m like, why was I so opposed in the first place? Changing is learning, learning is changing. Got it.
Great posts and excellent comments too. I’ll add this bit from one of my recent posts that also garnered a chuckle from a few who understood the message: “What’s the point of making mistakes if we’re not going to learn them.”
There’s always an opportunity to learn as I would suggest that we can never learn enough about and from those we attempt to lead.
“You never learn if all you do is defend what you know…” Ei-yi-yi. That’s it. Thank you – what a terrific reminder for every day.
Learn how to learn. That’s the #1 new skill a new team member is challenged to master when they join our team. The variability and pace of new information and knowledge can be overwhelming. One of the critical elements of learning more effectively is how to determine what NOT to learn. What out for useless data that does not been to be learned or learned right now.
Reply button doesn’t work, so this is a Reply to: devsmt –> I Couldn’t have said it better myself!! I’m happy I Finally read your post! I was looking for a post that someone wrote, that expressed it exactly the way you said. Thanks Very Much.
I find that one of the greatest blocks to learning is a very simple statement: “I already know this.” To learn we must let go of the fixation that we know already.