People in leadership roles have progressed to their positions by being experts in their field. More often than not, leaders of business began their careers like everybody else, towards the bottom of the hierarchy. As children we learn simple problems which become more complicated as we age. As our brains grow, so does our ability to handle life’s challenges. Anyone who has progressed in their field of work, would have experienced this as well, problems start simple and become more complex, the more our role evolves.
Like all of us, leaders began in jobs where they solved simple problems; where there is a clear cause and effect. As time progresses, they are promoted into a position of technical expert and work on more complicated challenges. These challenges might have a cause and effect but the path between the two is not quite as simple as it used to be, in fact the higher their level of responsibility becomes, the more complicated the challenges become for them. Yet, because of their experience, they are able to solve, and demonstrate to others how to solve the complicated technical challenges they face.
At some point, due to all their experience in their field, these technical experts become elevated to leadership positions. The challenges they face suddenly become much more complex. There are multiple cause and effects, no clear path between cause and effect, multiple variables and lots of unknowns. Their technical expertise no longer helps them to fully solve these challenges. Leaders here need to learn new skills, evolve the way they see the work, the way they think and the way they show up.
I believe the way forward for leaders looking to evolve their leadership skills, incorporates these three techniques (which need to all work in unison):
1. Cultivating a growth mindset,
2. Socialising intent and reflection
3. Oscillating between doing and reflecting
Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
Cultivating a Growth Mindset
Luckily for us, we can continue learning new skills throughout our lives. Technical experts who embrace a growth mindset when it comes to their leadership role, understand that learning and continual progress are important priorities.
In her 2014 Ted Talk, Professor Carole Dweck talks about studies she did with ten-year olds, whereby they were given a challenge that was too complex for them. Some said positive comments like “I love a challenge”. They understood their ability to grow, through their hard work. They had a growth mindset. Other children with more or a fixed mindset, saw the challenge as catastrophic, because their core intelligence had been tested. These kids did one of three things: they ran from the difficulty, they said they’d cheat next time, or they found someone who did worse to make them feel better about themselves. They didn’t see the potential to grow and learn from the test. The kids with a growth mindset were found to deeply process the errors from their test and correct it for next time. Leaders who adapt a growth mindset embrace challenges, and see them as opportunities for continuous learning, evolving and fine tuning their leadership skills. “What can I learn here?” “What is new?” “What is different?”. Having a growth mindset, and not a fixed mindset, dramatically increases the likelihood that you grow and develop your thinking.
Socialising intent and reflection
We are social creatures. Grouped together, people are much more likely to learn and evolve than someone in isolation.
The socialisation of intent occurs before the learning event; which involves others. Think of a time you wanted to achieve something. By vocalising your intention and being accountable to a group of people, you were much more likely to be motivated to change, than if you had attempted the task in isolation.
The other key time socialisation of learning is important is after the event. The actual learning may not take place whilst you are in the midst of the event, but rather afterwards, when you can get together with others to reflect on the challenge and how it was handled. During this refection time, you can discuss, dissect and analyse the actions taken. You can reflect on what worked and what didn’t and outline the learnings to be implemented next time around. This is great to do as a group as you have a variety of dynamic perspectives and you get many more learnings emerge than if done in isolation.
Oscillating between doing and reflecting.
By switching between the between the doing and the reflecting, you participate in deep learning, the type of learning that actually changes behaviour and ways of thinking. The most significant “ah-ha!” moments happen when we are in the reflecting mode, rather than the doing mode. It’s when we reflect on the event that we have those moments of insights and can clearly crystalise the key learnings. During times of reflection, we give our brains the time and the space and the calmness, to process and learn from our past actions.
All these actions need to go hand in hand of course in order for leaders to develop their skills. Think of a time you experienced a significant change in your life, your way of thinking. Did it involve all three of the above?
Could your leadership team benefit from one of my tailored workshops? Please get in touch today. I’d love to help!