In working to develop leaders in both public and private organizations over the last 30 years, I’ve noted what differentiates an average leader from the truly successful.
Adequate leaders often learn only from their own mistakes and triumphs. They are unable to benefit from the tough lessons learned by others. They are therefore limited by their own field of experience and circumstances. They think narrowly and often believe that their work and their organizations are unique. As a result, their growth and effectiveness as leaders consequently is stunted.
Conversely, leaders who are curious can learn from the successes and failures of others. By observing other leaders, they glean lessons learned without making their own mistakes. They tend to think broadly and deeply, often seeing how their work and their organizations are like others. These aggressive learners are humble enough to know they don’t have all the answers. They continually ask questions, such as:
So, challenge yourself to become that curious and humble leader:
Never miss a local story.
▪ Look outside yourself and your organization for ideas and insight. Resist thinking that your world is so unique that what works elsewhere wouldn’t work for you.
▪ Consider the lessons offered by failures. Knowing what not to do can be just as valuable as knowing what to do.
▪ Talk with other leaders about lessons they have learned. Ask about what has tested them and made them strong. Focus on leadership rather than the technical aspects of your work.
▪ Reflect and compare yourself to leaders you admire and ask how you measure up.
▪ Explore the lives and careers of those who have preceded you in leadership roles. Consider how they managed in good times and in bad.
By learning vicariously, you can harness the wisdom of others. You can then can face defining moments in your career and draw on the collective experience of others to find what is right and what is best.
Linda Clark-Santos, Ph.D. is a consultant and executive coach. firstname.lastname@example.org.