Unknowing Leadership

True or false? Leaders must know everything.

That’s false. In fact it’s absolutely  positively false. Few things about leadership will ever be more false. It’s odd then that so many people in leadership positions act as if it were true.

Insecure and inexperienced leaders hate to say “I don’t know.” To avoid admitting to what they see as a weakness, they guess. They make something up or in the worst case, lie.

All because they believe uttering the words “I don’t know” makes them look weak.

Authentic Leaders embrace the unknown. They live in ambiguity. They know what they know and perhaps even more importantly, they know what they don’t know. And they are completely comfortable with not having all the answers.

They know that ambiguity leads to opportunity. When they don’t know their answer is “I don’t know…yet.” Their thought process in that moment is not on what is, it’s on what could be. They realize that not knowing is the beginning of the learning process.

Authentic Leaders know they will never know it all. They also know that they don’t have to. They use the knowledge and experience of their teams to fill in their gaps. They also don’t expect anyone in their organization to have all the answers and they willingly fill in the knowledge gaps of their team.

When an Authentic Leader doesn’t know what to do they do the next right thing. Doing the next right thing doesn’t require knowing the end result, it only requires knowing the next right thing to do. A series of “right next steps” will invariably lead to the desired end result.

Authentic Leaders do not try to solve every problem immediately. They live in the unknowns of a problem to better understand it and it’s root causes. They are willing to allow the problem to persist a bit to ensure that once it’s solved it’s solved for good.

It’s only by embracing what you don’t know that you can know more. If you think you know it all, or think you must convince others that you do, you rob yourself of the opportunity to grow.

Don’t simply tolerate ambiguity, embrace it. Relish the unknown and use it as a springboard to knowing more. Admit what you don’t know. Admit it especially to yourself. And remind yourself that not knowing isn’t a weakness, it is the beginning of knowing more.

Be Better Soon

If you’re a leader then hopefully you know that one of your prime responsibilities is the development of the people you lead. Unfortunately not everyone in a leadership agrees with that thinking.

Twice in the last few weeks I’ve had conversations with two such “non leading” leaders. One told me that their sales team didn’t need any sales training and the other told me that their leadership team was “set” when it came to developing their leadership skills.

I wish I could say those conversations were unusual but they are not. Over the years I’ve had those types of conversations hundreds of times. Way too many people in positions of leadership do not accept any responsibility for the development of their people.

What makes that worse is the fact that I’ve had even more conversations with the people those “non leading” leaders are supposed to be developing. In those conversations the “un led” people say that it is not their responsibility to develop themselves. If their boss or company want them to grow then it’s the company’s responsibility to develop them. They won’t do it on their own time and they certainly won’t invest in themselves if it’s for the benefit of their employer.

So there is a whole bunch of people who have no one accepting responsibility for their development. That’s a shame because it’s never been easier to find information, online training or presentations that are very effective in helping people improve themselves.

There will likely always be people in leadership positions who either refuse to lead or think they are leading when they really aren’t. Maybe some of them really think that their team is “set” but I’ve never seen a salesperson or a leader who couldn’t get better.

If you’re one of the people waiting for somebody else to make you better then here’s some advice….stop making excuses. Start accepting responsibility for your own growth and the increased success that will come with it.

Do a bit of research to find a blog or podcast that focuses on an area where you could improve. Commit to invest a few minutes every day to learn something new. Always have a book nearby on a topic of interest to you and set aside time on a regular basis to actually read it.

Develop yourself for yourself. There is a reason it’s called self-improvement….you do it for yourself. There are far worse things in life than your employer benefiting from something you’ve done for yourself. Never allow the fact that your boss or company won’t invest in you stop you from investing in yourself.

Make 2020 the year YOU make the world a better place by making a better you. Start now and you will be better soon!

Learning is Never Wasted

I had just finished up a large project. By every measure it was a tremendous success. I was proud of the effort I had put into it and especially proud of the efforts of my fellow team members. 

 

A person a little higher in the organization than me told me the event was a huge success. I commented that I had learned a lot and they said “that’s too bad cause we’re never doing that again.” The implication was that whatever I had learned would go to waste. 

 

They were wrong about what I had learned going to waste. They were wrong because learning is never wasted. All learning, I repeat, all learning is beneficial.

 

I had an outstanding teacher in the 7th grade. His name was Cyril Paul. He was a life changing kind of teacher and I’ve never forgotten him or the lessons he taught me. I tried finding him several years ago to give him a proper thank you and to let him know how he changed my life. My search unfortunately did not succeed.

 

I remember complaining to him one day about some junk (in the infinite wisdom of a 12 year old I was certain it was junk) he was teaching in math class. I said “I’m going to be a baseball player, I’ll never use this.” 

 

He said I could be right, I might never need that particular knowledge. But he quickly added that learning how to solve problems would benefit me the rest of my life. He said that every class I was in was serving two purposes. Teaching me whatever the subject was and teaching me how to learn. Every single class was teaching me how to learn! I’m not sure when I discovered he was right about that, I think it came upon me slowly. But he was absolutely right.

 

I am still learning today. I hope you are too.

 

No one can take your education from you. Don’t think for a minute that something you’ve learned will be of no use to you in the future. You never know when some tidbit of knowledge from your past will come in handy. 

 

It’s never been easier to add to your base of knowledge than it is today. There are tons of good online classes and many of them are available at no cost to the learner. Remember, the most successful people learn something new almost every single day. 

 

Don’t use lack of time as an excuse for not learning. If educating yourself is a priority then time won’t be an issue. 


So, what are you learning today?


The Best School in the World

Almost every successful person in the world attended this school. I should probably remove that “almost” qualifier and say every successful person. It is a tough school with lessons so difficult they often seem insurmountable. Some people, the less successful types, don’t even have the courage to walk through the virtual doors of this school. 

 

It’s the school known as “The School of Hard Knocks.” Some people call it the school of life.

 

For those of you unfamiliar with this school it isn’t found in a building. It’s not located in any particular place. The school never closes, not even when you want it to. When you’re trying something new or working your butt off to succeed you can find yourself in this “school” with no notice. All of the sudden it just happens!

 

The “classes” taught there can be very challenging but once learned they tend to stay with you forever. They are frequently life changing. They are most often self-taught. The “tests” associated with these classes can leave scars that last a long time. Some of the scars can be seen but many of them are only felt. But the feeling can be incredibly painful. 

 

These lessons cannot be bought, they must be earned. As difficult as they can be I’d encourage anyone to attend “The School of Hard Knocks” because some of life’s best lessons are taught there. It seems as if that Hard Knocks place is the one that shows you how to use all those fancy degrees and formal education you received from the other schools.


Don’t shy away from life’s tough lessons. The stuff you learn in a school with four walls can help you make a living but the stuff you learn outside those walls can help you make a life.


Leading from a High Horse

I had a nice long “catch-up” conversation with a friend I’ve known a long long time. Since High School actually so it’s kind of a shockingly long time. 🙂

 

She works for one of the largest manufacturing companies in the world, she started right out of college, and she has done very very well for herself. She runs a very profitable part of the company and has a significant number of people who report either directly to her or to one of her direct reports. 

 

During our conversation she asked me something that I thought, given her success, was pretty surprising. She asked me how she could get her people to stop giving her their opinion without hurting their feelings.

 

When I asked her why she wanted them to stop giving their opinions she said it was just a matter of time. She simply didn’t have time to listen to people whose opinion didn’t really matter. 

 

It was at this point that I had to just stop for a minute (seemed like an hour) and think of how to respond. There was so much wrong with the statement I didn’t really know where to begin. Now this is a person I have great respect for, I remember her when she was so afraid of her own shadow that she couldn’t try out for the cheerleading squad. She has truly grown so much through the years and she is a wonderful person. 

 

But the statement was so incredibly insulting to her people that I couldn’t hardly believe she had said it. 

 

I asked her how long she had felt that way and she couldn’t pinpoint when it started but she said the feeling was growing and she was getting more frustrated with her people by the day. 

 

So I offered her these two ideas. I said that she really didn’t need to do anything, the “problem” would soon take care of itself. I said if her team had any brains at all they would soon realize that she didn’t value their input and the input would simply dry up on it’s own. I told her that hurt feelings would be the least of her problems because her team would simply disengage and be far less valuable employees and that the disengagement would be her responsibility. 

 

Then I told her that it wasn’t her team’s responsibility to stop offering ideas and suggestions; it was her responsibility to get down off her high horse and learn to value their opinions. I said if she had hired someone, or allowed someone to be hired, that she couldn’t learn from then she had allowed the wrong person to be hired. 

 

She was pretty quiet. 

 

I reminded her that when she was moving through the ranks that her leaders DID value her opinions and encouraged her to share them frequently. It was one of the big reasons she advanced in the company. I asked her where she would be today if her former bosses had thought of her opinions that same way she was now feeling about her people’s opinions. 

 

Here’s the lesson folks; sometimes we “lead” by letting the people we lead teach us. Sometimes we lead by simply listening to our people. We always lead by demonstrating that we value the people we lead. 

 

If you’re a leader who has gotten so full of yourself that you can’t learn anything from the people you lead then you have gotten to the point that you can no longer actually lead.

 

If you’ve forgotten that you can learn from anyone and everyone then you’ve forgotten how you became a leader in the first place. Get down off that high horse and retrace your path to becoming a leader, you may just be surprised at how much you don’t remember.


By the way, I’m happy to report that my good friend now keeps time open on her calendar each day just to be available for any member of her organization to drop in to her office with ideas, concerns, opinions, and suggestions. She’s a great leader and she already knew all that stuff I told her, she, like everyone else, just needs a reminder once in a while. 

Old Advice

Someone asked me a few day ago how I write this blog, they wondered if I had a bunch of posts “in progress” that were partially written that I selected from when I needed a post and had no fresh ideas.

 

Well, that’s is sometimes the case. I most often write early in the morning and once I start a post I usually finish it in one sitting. Sometimes I write when something makes me mad, those posts are often left unfinished and are seldom published. (I know there are lots of people who would like to see those posts but I don’t think so, perhaps I’ll save those for the book I might never write)

 

This particular post is one of those “mad” posts but I’m most certainly going to finish it and I’m definitely going to publish it… I owe it to the limited thinkers who made me mad in the first place. So here we go…

 

Ordinarily I’d say doing something a particular way just because it’s always been done that way is a terrible reason for doing it. Continually repeating a process “just because” indicates lazy thinking and can result in inferior results. I frequently tell people that just because something isn’t broke doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be. 

 

The most successful people are always on the lookout for a better way of doing most everything. 

 

But every once in a while there isn’t a better way. Doing something the same way over a long period of time turns out to be the best way to do it. If you’ve seriously considered alternatives to the way you’re doing something today and found those alternatives to be lacking then don’t be afraid to stick with the status quo. But don’t quit looking either.

 

As leery as I am when I hear someone say “we’ve always done it way” I’m just as troubled when I hear someone say “we’re changing because it just seems like it’s time for a change.”

 

We’re changing because it’s time for a change is a horrible reason to change. You might just as well buy lottery tickets because your chances for success are about the same. Change for the sake of change indicates the same lazy level of thinking as “we’ve always done it that way.” 

 

You have no idea if the change is in the right direction, you’ve likely invested very little time in considering why it is being done the way it is and even less time considering the consequences and expense associated with the change. If the change works out you just got lucky and if you’re counting on luck then don’t count on much success.

 

Which brings me to the reason for this post. In trying to help someone understand why something was done the way it was done it was hinted to me that my “old advice” was of no use anymore. 

 

The person seemed to indicate that experience was in fact a handicap and advice stemming from experience should be discounted or just outright ignored. 

 

Wisdom doesn’t always come with experience; sometimes experience just shows up alone…. but not very often. Failing to use another person’s experience is an unforced error. It’s costly, it slows down progress and it’s just not very smart. Smart people learn from their mistakes, the smartest people learn from the mistakes of others.


If you choose to ignore the experience of those who have gone before you then you do so at your own peril, and let there be no doubt, it is perilous indeed.

Why Different is Good

Being better tomorrow than you are today requires that you do something different today than you did yesterday.

 

I think most of us, I know it’s true for me, are creatures of habit. I like doing the same things with the same people pretty much all the time. The people I like the most are the people who are just like me, they believe the same things I believe, the say the same things I say and they like to do the same stuff I like to do…or at least mostly. One thing not everybody I know likes to do is embrace different viewpoints. 

 

Now truth be told I don’t know if I actually “like” embracing different viewpoints but I do need to. I need to because I have a hunger to learn. I am a student of people and that means I need to understand them…no matter how different their life might be from my own.

 

Here’s the reality, and it’s not just my reality, it is your reality too… As much as I like being around people who are just like me I don’t learn very much from them. We are in agreement on most things, someone in the group says something and everyone nods their head in agreement. “You got that right” is a common refrain. 

 

It isn’t that I like disagreement or being disagreeable but often times it is in that discussion that follows disagreement that you learn. If, and it’s a big IF, if you are open to learning. If you honestly work to truly see things from the other person’s point of view. If you don’t just automatically think they are wrong because they don’t think like you or your friends.

 

It’s pretty tough to learn something new from people who are just like you. It’s even harder to learn something new from people who think exactly as you do. 

 

Never underestimate the fact that you could be wrong, about most anything. You might be the smartest person in the room, you may hold the loftiest position in your organization but that doesn’t automatically make you right about everything.

 

Search out people different than yourself. Invest time in understanding them. Don’t prejudge someone just because they “aren’t like you.” Listen to them and listen to understand them rather than listening for the sole purpose of responding. Understand that there isn’t anyone on earth who doesn’t have or know something they can teach you.

 

Read books with viewpoints you disagree with. Have lunch with someone you wouldn’t normally have a beer with after work. Watch FOX News AND CNN. (That’s almost like living in two different worlds) Genuinely try to see multiple sides of every argument. 


Don’t sacrifice your core values and principles but do try to understand where other people are coming from. Your may discover that if you were them you would think and act just like them. You’re likely to still disagree but at least you’ll understand why. You’ll almost certainly learn something about them and the odds are very good that you’ll learn even more about yourself.