Listening is learning.
Choosing to learn is superior to choosing to be the smartest person in every room you enter.
It’s born of our curiosity. How curious are you? To learn and understand things you don’t yet know…or understand?
Have you ever stumbled down a rabbit hole to learn something that suddenly jumped onto your radar and it was as though you entered another dimension, a world you didn’t even know existed?
If you’re super curious it happens to you often. It happens often enough for me to make me realize that my experiences, knowledge, and insights are tremendously narrow. Narrow doesn’t mean useless. It means limited.
When I was a high school kid I got a job selling stereo gear. I had never done it before. I knew plenty about the equipment and about what constituted a good system. But I hadn’t really sold stuff before. And I had never worked in a retail store. But I was brought up to be polite and I knew how to interact with people. Still, there was an awful lot I didn’t know. Imagine teenaged me trying to figure it all out on my own!
Remove the people who showed you the ropes. Remove the people who taught you in school, at home, and on the job.
Talk about living in a matrix. Having to figure everything out without relying on anybody who knows something you don’t. What a royal pain that would be. And think about how long everything would take to figure out. Even basic things.
I can’t even imagine life without YouTube videos showing us how to do all sorts of things. We’re learning home repair, car repair, how to play musical instruments and how to speak a foreign language thanks to complete strangers willing to put videos up on YouTube.
Then why are CEOs, executives, leaders and entrepreneurs sometimes resistant to seek insights and knowledge from others? Especially in areas where they think they’ve got a pretty good grasp of the subject?
I mean, it’s easy to listen to others when we admit we’re outside our lane of expertise. I remember being quite young and negotiating my first lease. I was young, but I wasn’t stupid. So I hired an attorney who specialized in commercial real estate. Absolutely worth his weight in gold. When you’re operating retail companies and you’re smart – and I was both at one time 😉 – good real estate attorneys can be among your favorite people. Well, it’s easy to do that when you know how clueless you are.
But what about when you’re not so clueless? Or you don’t think you’re clueless at all?
Regularly I have a curious conversation. It goes something like this:
Me: “What would you most like to protect yourself from?”
CEO: “Blindspots. I’m fearful of what I may not be seeing.”
Me: “What are you currently doing to protect yourself?”
CEO: “I’m not quite sure what to do about it.”
I’ve got grandkids. The youngest will be 4 this summer. The oldest will be 12. Every single one of them knows the answer. I’m working hard to contribute to helping them maintain the quality they naturally have to protect themselves from blind spots.
Questions. These kids ask TONS of questions.
Curiosity. They’re obnoxiously curious.
Fearless. They’re not bashful to ask any question. Their quest to know trumps any fears they may have to appear foolish. Truth is, except for the two older of my grandkids (about 10 and 12 respectively), that doesn’t even cross their mind. Funny how the older kids grow the more intimidated they can be to ask questions that may make them appear foolish. I don’t think that’s a positive thing!
This week the two oldest grandsons have been attending football camp at a nearby high school, conducted by the high school football coaches. It’s about 2 hours every morning. They were excited to go and here we are late in the week – they’ve gone every day this week – and they’re still excited. Why?
In large part because these coaches know way more than they do. And they know it. They expect it. It’s why they’re attending this camp. They want to learn, understand and grow.
CEOs and leaders can lose their way for a variety of reasons. We’re number 1 in authority – we’re the people others look to for answers and decisions. Ego can fuel us to incorrectly think it means people expect us to be infallible. We lose our fearlessness – that fearlessness every child has to admit they don’t know and then to ask.
Formal instruction is easier. It’s one reason why workshops, seminars, and conferences can be more palatable. But too frequently less profitable. Because we’re passively sitting there absorbing new information, but that doesn’t mean we’re using what we’re learning. New information doesn’t often enough wind up being incorporated into our lives.
Formal instruction puts us in the company of others. That can make us feel better. “See, there are all these other people who need to learn this, too!”
Those forums can be profitable. And often appropriate. But tell me about a workshop, seminar or conference you attended that changed your life because of the instruction you got. Most aren’t transformational.
Transformational happens at a much more personal level. Usually in a much safer, more confidential setting. That’s especially true of CEOs and top-level leaders or entrepreneurs.
Executive and leadership coaching exists to address this. Peer groups exist, too. But what can you do today to get this thing headed in a more positive direction?
Step 1 – Let’s start with your direct reports, the people with whom you have an established relationship. Make time to sit down with them one-on-one to find out what they know better (or more than) you.
Remove any anxiety by asking them to meet with you for up to 30 minutes – just the two of you – because you want to get their feedback.
At the beginning of the meeting tell them your goal is to help them find more productive ways to contribute – and your hope is to make them feel better about their contribution.
“What don’t I know about your knowledge and know how? In other words, what do you know a lot about that I may not be fully aware of?”
See where the conversation goes.
Be curious. Be interested.
Step 2 – During the conversation with direct reports think of what you’re hearing and how this newfound knowledge might help the company with some existing problems.
Ask. Ask them how you may be able to help them leverage this know-how, or experience, or insight more and better.
Step 3 – After you’ve met with each direct report assemble them together in a group meeting. Allow an hour. Set the agenda. It could look something like this:
8:30am – Opening remarks – the purpose of the meeting is to find out what hidden knowledge and expertise we may be neglecting to leverage (so we can better leverage it)
8:40am – Sharing the insights I gained in my one-on-one meetings with each of you
9am – Roundtable discussion to share which insights may be most useful to help us address our current constraints/opportunities
9:25am – Wrap up / concluding thoughts
9:30am – Meeting ends
Along the way, facilitate good questions. One big objective of this meeting is to ready the group to lean more on their collective abilities and knowledge. The signal you’re sending is that you value their insights, experiences, and knowledge. But don’t make this about YOU. Make it about THEM.
Step 4 – Keep repeating this process as often as possible, especially the group meeting with your direct reports.
Don’t make this a one and done or nothing will change.
The quicker we understand that everybody matters and everybody has a contribution to make, the better we all become.
“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” -Harry S. Truman
President Truman was right. The ego that drives us to forsake our curiosity and our ability to value what others think and feel robs us of growth. So today, commit yourself, “No more!” Starting now leverage more fully the power of others by finding out what they know that you don’t – or what they may know more or better than you. And together see how much further and faster you can go.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!