“Leaders are more powerful role models when they learn more than they teach.”
~Rosabeth Moss Kantor
Somehow, we think that, as leaders, we need to know everything, and then bestow this wisdom on those around us. We are afraid to show our foibles and concerned that others might think less of us if there is something we’re not sure of. We struggle to look good (and smart) at most, if not all, times.
But I think, and I’ve noticed through my own experience as well as through observing clients for quite some time now, that we are actually stronger leaders when we do just the opposite. When we show our foibles, let others know that there are things we’re not sure of, and let ourselves look not so good (or smart) at times, we become more powerful role models because we’re role modeling learning. And learning – and being open to learning – is a tremendous leadership skill.
When we admit our humanness and are willing to show that we’re willing to make mistakes, to learn and to grow, we offer those around us the opportunity to admit their humanness as well. When we push back against the misconception that a leader must be all-knowing and must have an answer in every situation, we make it okay for those around us to not have answers as well. And when we can admit that we might not have all the answers, we are more open to perspectives and solutions that might have been closed off to us.
I practice this willingness to not know with my clients as well. There are times when my clients ask for my opinion on a situation or my thoughts on what they should do, and while I may give them my perspective and thinking, I always preface whatever I say with the acknowledgement that I do not know their best answer and that I most likely could not know their best answer. I am not them. I am not as close to the situation (or people) as they are.
Being willing to not know – being willing to not have the ultimate answer – opens us up to curiosity, and curiosity opens us up to innovative approaches to complex situations and compassionate interpretations of tense relationships.
And when we can model this innovation and compassion to those around us, we model a powerful way to lead and a thoughtful way to be.
How have you expanded your leadership by being open to learning?