May 1, 2020

The Childlike Leader Learns Fastest

Looking back, I recognise one of the purposes we’ve all fulfilled as children…
One of the purposes of our creation.
Is to drive our parents mad.

Which is fine.
Because poetic justice is delivered in barrels-full…
…when we are blessed enough to become parents ourselves.

I think the very English phrase I’m looking for is “We Get Our Comeuppance.”

There is time enough to talk about the ravages of teenage behaviour in other Thinking Benches.

But today I want to narrow the focus to those times when our little darlings have learned to speak.
And then won’t stop!

Following which they soon move to the next stage of development and annoyance.
They start asking questions.

Specifically, they learn to use that powerful tool “WHY?”

They’re discovering and discovering and searching and searching.
They have no history to fall back upon.
And so they ask (and ask and ask and ask)… “But, WHY?”

whatever Golden Rules of Parenthood you set for yourself (during your phase of Ignorant Innocence)…
Whatever appalling behaviour you swore blind that you would never, ever succumb to…

You find yourself uttering those dreaded words:
”Because Mummy/Daddy/I said so!!!”
”Because it just does!!”

This curiosity that is part of our survival and growth as infants…
Is how we start to make sense of our world.
It’s how we discover what we clearly don’t know.
It’s a magical, evolutionary and revolutionary instrument.

It brings us closer to what is true… about what we see around us.

The tragedy is…
That life-enhancing curiosity gets knocked out of us as the years progress.

It gets knocked out of us when we’re forced to digest ‘Facts’…
Rather than question and test them for ourselves.

Later, we’re forced to digest ‘Instructions’ from those who pay our salaries.

Eventually, we start to develop our own ‘Stories’.
In our heads.

And it’s these Stories that cause the most damage.

  • We develop Stories about Who We Are.

  • We develop Stories about Who We’re Supposed to Be… If We’re To Be Happier

  • We develop Stories about What Others Think of Us… And Why That Matters.

  • We develop Stories about How We Should Behave to Make Others Happy

  • We develop Stories about What Clients Think… and What They Really Want.

What’s sad is that we honestly, honestly believe that these stories are Reality.

We look at the world through the lens of these stories.
We develop what psychologists call ‘Unconscious Bias’.

And here’s the tragedy…
We lose our curiosity.

I’ve lost count of the number of leaders who have said to me…
”Oooh, No. Our clients wouldn’t want us to do that. To behave in that different way.”
”People today prefer advisers to provide this kind of service.”

Then I ask them for the evidence – from clients – of those statements.
Or the empirical evidence about What People Prefer.
And there is none.

We genuinely believe – as leaders – we know what our teams are thinking and feeling.
We genuinely believe – as advisers, consultants, whatever… we know what ALL of our clients are thinking and feeling and seeking from us.

Blindly, desperately… we clasp these beliefs to our breast… with the flimsiest of evidence.
(If any at all!)

I interviewed Philippa Hann yesterday.
In my view, an extraordinary leader.

I asked her what lessons she had learned about Leadership during this Covid-19 Lockdown period.

The first word that came from her lips was…

“I’ve learned to stop assuming I know what’s going on in people’s lives..
(Because I don’t!)
And to become far more curious.
That has led to far better decisions, at a time of extraordinary pressure!”

The Stories in our head are usually just that.

They not only lead to ineffective leaderships decisions.
(Costly, time-and-energy-and-people-consuming decisions.)
Rather, they can lead us to create solutions… when we don’t really understand the problem.

We’re so supremely knowledgeable that we can’t stop ourselves from dumping our wise advice on others.

If we’d just quieten the Stories in our head…
If we’d just become more childlike…
If we’d just remain far more curious for far longer…

The evidence shows that…
We’d ask more truth-revealing questions.
We’d become far better Advice-Givers.
We’d become far better Leaders.

If my ego will allow me opportunity to ‘Be As A Little Child’…
I’ll discover far more of what Life is trying to teach me…
about business;
about these extraordinary people around me.