The moment that we think we know more stuff than we don’t – that we’re grown, professional adults – is the moment that our growth ceases. We stop expanding and start contracting to the detriment of everyone around us – Our family, our friends, our colleagues, and our clients.
So, how does this relate to you as a leader and your business?
Well, through this piece, I seek to elucidate how embracing uncertainty, and the vulnerability of not knowing can transform your mindset and your business for the better.
Adam Grant, in his superb book “Think again” talks at length about the value of “thinking like a scientist.” I highly recommend it.
So let’s start with a little science.
It might seem counter-intuitive, in seeking to expand your minds (and keep them expanding for that matter) to start with the granular. But that’s exactly what I’m going to do. And I mean, really granular!
See, even at the level of atoms and particles, current quantum physics suggests that we only exist in relation to each other. That we should consider ourselves less as fixed “things” with a real “fixed identity” and more as “events.” Nothing is constant and unchanging – even ourselves. We’re in a constant state of flux.
Stay with me!
It can be hard to let go of this “fixed” identity, particularly when we’ve worked so hard to build it up, often buttressing it with qualifications and achievements – not to mention lots and lots of intellectual “armour.” It can provide a sense of security. Particularly when stepping into a leadership role where we’re vulnerable to judgement.
“I’m the expert, you’re not.”
But we must let go of it, for real growth.
We must let go of it for exceptional service. And all great leaders should be in service to the people around them. All great business cultures are those where generosity and service thrive.
Professor Tom Oliver, in his brilliant book, “The Self Delusion”, explains how we are all, intricately connected, fibres in a rich tapestry rather than separate, constant, distinct individuals.
“On a physical, psychological and cultural level, we are all much more intertwined than we know: we cannot use our bodies to define our independent existence because most of our 37 trillion cells have such a short lifespan that we are essentially made anew every few weeks”
Well, the point is that there is much less certainty, and fixedness, even at the most granular level, than we think.
So let’s let go of certainty, seeing as there isn’t much of it, and embrace uncertainty.
This is not to say that your knowledge and expertise are irrelevant. Far from it. They are incredibly useful tools when used in combination with a genuine curiosity to understand the people around you better, and the full embrace of not knowing. However, often, the more knowledge that we accrue, the more rigid we can become, headstrong in our beliefs and the harder we find it to re-think and adapt.
Knowledge and expertise are great, but they must never serve as a block to getting to know and deeply understand your team, their needs, as well as the evolving needs of the business. We must start from the basis that everyone is unique. And every situation is unique. Sure, there may be general themes you’ve noticed through experience but this is no substitute for individual care and attention.
This is where your value add is – in embracing not knowing. This is where you truly serve the nuanced needs of your team, the situation and the business most effectively.
Here, the analysis of Carl Jung is particularly apt:
“In view of the fact that in principle, the positive advantages of knowledge work specifically to the disadvantage of understanding, the judgment resulting therefrom is likely to be something of a paradox. Judged scientifically, the individual is nothing but a unit which repeats itself ad infinitum and could just as well be designated with a letter of the alphabet. For understanding, on the other hand, it is just the unique individual human being who, when stripped of all those conformities and regularities so dear to the heart of the scientist, is the supreme and only real object of investigation.”
Indeed, knowledge without individual care is generalised and non specific. We wouldn’t trust a doctor’s diagnosis if they hadn’t taken the time to truly listen to and understand our symptoms. It’s no different for you as leaders of a team when serving their needs and the needs of your business. That’s where the thinking like a scientist comes in – perhaps not in the literal sense that Jung is referring to above, but rather in mindset – that genuine curiosity to understand better at any cost.
KNOWLEDGE + INDIVIDUAL CARE = EXCEPTIONAL SERVICE
What can you do, practically, as a result of this information right away?
I invite you all to embrace a coaching mindset with your team.
A great deal of your role as a leader is not about having or giving your team the answers – but a commitment to helping them find the answers themselves with your expert guidance and a commitment to a shared purpose.
”People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Theodore Roosevelt.
Your knowledge and expertise will only hit the mark if you enter into each relationship and situation with that curious mindset, embracing not knowing and a commitment to understanding.
If you think back to any teacher that had a real impact on you, growing up, I doubt it was those that simply recited knowledge to you. Stuff that you’d have to repeat in an exam. It was probably those that took the time to know and understand you – that asked the right questions – that elicited rather than told – that guided you to your answers and a deeper understanding.
It’s here that not enough practical value is placed within business overall. The softer, relational side of the job that has the ability to truly transform the way that leaders serve their teams, transforming the culture and ultimately the outcomes for clients.
So take a load off. You don’t need to know everything so stop pretending. Embrace not knowing to the benefit of you and all those around you.
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