We are officially in “back to school” season, where young people are returning to the classroom to, hopefully, expand their horizons. What about you as a leader? Is there a season to your learning? Do you actively seek out new information, or do you know all that you need to know to lead effectively? Even if you think learning is important, where does it fall on your priority list . . . really?
One of my takeaways from Andy Stanley when he spoke at the recent Global Leadership Summit 2017 was to be a student, not a critic. He spelled it out quite simply. “The moment you start criticizing, you stop learning. When you stop learning, you quit leading. When you quit leading, all the other leaders under you will go somewhere else.”
Pretty compelling case for being a student.
The question then becomes how best to do that. Stephen Covey highlighted how in #5 of the 7 Habits — Seek first to understand. Be curious. Ask questions . . . not to grill people who have a different perspective, or to prove them wrong. Ask with a sincere desire to understand. In fact, better than simply asking “Why?” (which at times can come off sounding like a dare or some kind of test), what if you instead stated, “Help me understand why you think that.” That change in phrasing shifts the onus from them proving that they are right, to you making the effort to grasp their perspective. It moves the conversation from one of defense to one of offense.
It makes you a student, not a critic.
And ultimately, students win. They win the best ideas, the best people, and the best long-term results. As Andy Stanley pointed out, “closed minds close minds.” If you as the leader are not open to new ideas, new ways of thinking, your people won’t be either. And even if you have the perfect solution for today’s challenges, guess what? The challenges of tomorrow are going to be different and will require different solutions.
Interestingly, the more successful we are, the harder it becomes to remain a student. Everyone is patting you on the back for all you have accomplished, you see the good that has resulted from your efforts, and it becomes pretty easy to feel like you have graduated. You’ve got the “straight A’s” to prove that you know what you’re talking about. Yep, sure enough, you aced yesterday’s test. Just don’t forget . . . there will be another, different, test tomorrow.
Maybe it’s time to head back to school.