Most people are placed in positions of leadership because it was determined they knew what they were doing. They demonstrated competence and found success (or at least a leadership position) as a result. And the more external validation the leader experiences, the more confidence they tend to gain in their skill set. This would seem like a positive thing . . . except when, in the words of Marshall Goldsmith, “what got you here won’t get you there.”
In today’s VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), yesterday’s most effective tools may not lead to tomorrow’s success. To be successful in such an environment, a leader needs to be confident enough to risk being a beginner again, learning the ropes of an entirely new skill or approach. That is easy enough to agree with in theory, but the reality may feel a bit different . . .
Being a beginner means that you will feel incompetent and make mistakes. It requires a willingness to ask for help from those who know more than you in the desired skill — regardless of where that person sits in the organizational chart, or whether they are half your age. It means embracing a growth mindset — with all the hard work and setbacks such a mindset entails — while still being held accountable for positive outcomes. It may even mean that those who have seen you as “a sure bet” become a bit skeptical . . . at least in the short term.
However, if you as the leader are brave enough to embrace the role of beginner, you model for your entire organization that continuous learning is critical for sustained success . . . that expertise isn’t a static trait, but rather an ongoing quest filled with twists and turns . . . that at the same time you are experiencing success in one area, you should also be asking “what’s next”. Over time, this approach will enable your organization to become more nimble and responsive to changes in the environment, and people will come to see your organization — and its leader — as strategic, innovative, adaptable, and resilient.
What leader doesn’t hope to been seen as strategic, innovative, adaptive and resilient? The first step is to scan the environment and decide where you need to step away from the “sure thing” to again become a beginner.
Are you brave enough?