Five Tips for Accelerating the Journey from Knower to Learner

Originally published on 11/25/15 on Smart Business Online.


Someone once told us that the day you quit learning things is the day you die.

Morbidity aside, the more we reflected upon this, the more we agree that’s how it ought to be. Leaving room to learn means leaving room to improve.

Companies should have the skills and abilities to continuously improve their performance year over year by engaging People, focusing on the Process, and delivering superior Product to their markets. Steps in the journey for a leader from Knower to Leader include these:

  1. Use the Power of the Pause in thought and in conversation. As discussed in Out of the Question, How Curious Leaders Win, using the Power of the Pause — be it for a minute or 24 hours — provides time for deeper reflection on the issue allowing you to listen to your intuition and then respond with better and broader impact.Necessary for anyone in today’s fast-paced world, a pause in one’s day, or even just in (especially in) important conversation provides the needed breathing room for reflection and intentional action.
  1. Reflect, inspect and expect. Consider this framework: reflecting is focused on the past; inspecting is focused on the current situation; and expecting is thinking on the outcomes we are going to achieve together.
    By preparing to engage on a topic using this framework, we find the likelihood of exploring novel solutions is expanded. Together, in a creative and open-minded way, you built your understanding of the history and key assumptions and ask all the questions you can about the current situation, which is how you arrive at a new place together.
  2. During the pause, carefully evaluate: How urgent is this? Are we sure we understand the entire situation? Think through goals before speaking or acting, and determine your desired outcome before telling people how to get things done. Think about the kind of questions you could ask your team to make them owners of the solutions.
    Look at the team/people working, and make sure you have the right people in place. Have you brought in the full set of people whose feelings and impressions need to be considered?
  3. Start small, and practice. One action to become a Learner Leader that we learned from the book Multipliers by Liz Wiseman is the following simple trick: start the day with five pennies in your left pants pocket. Whenever you give a directive, as opposed to asking an open question based on genuine curiosity, or whenever you start telling people what to do, move one penny to your right pocket.
    See how far into the day you can get before you have an empty left pocket! The goal here is to be aware of our “command and control” behaviors and shift toward the Learner Leader mindset.
  4. Try asking a few questions without a known or assumed answer: Leaders often find asking questions of others without a rough concept of the solution mind to be an intimidating hurdle. We often fall back to the safety net of asking questions where we feel we can provide guidance or have a preconceived notion of the answer.
    Try asking a genuine question like “What are the top three drivers of our customer purchase decisions?“ or “How could we become such an attractive workplace that we have excess resumes?”
    By asking questions with genuine curiosity, your team will respond with a new kind of energy and engagement. Take the brave step of preparing and asking a few “real” questions and see how the team responds.

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