Growing or Stuck: how to turn experience into wisdom

What separates leaders who learn from leaders who seem stuck? Leaders who learn share three critical characteristics in my experience. First they seek out new models (frames) from which to interpret their situation. Effective leaders understand that in a rapidly changing environment their own frame of reference cannot sufficiently interpret the full complexity of the situations they face. So, they not only gather others who have a different expertise from their own, they also find new ways of evaluating data and experiment with these taxonomies by rethinking their conclusions.

Second, they practice critical reflection every day. That is they assess the actions and the reactions/results those actions generated with a consistently disciplined approach of asking two questions. What was good about what I saw today? What was bad about what I saw today? This practice of asking dialectical questions gives them an ability to anticipate unexpected consequences a little sooner than those who don't practice this discipline.

Third, they are always listening. I am a little surprise by how much effective leaders "hear." The ability to be fully engaged in a situation or conversation leads effective leaders to hear verbal and observe non-verbal communication. These leaders literally listen with their eyes as well as their ears and pick up subtle distinctions in expression, posture or tone that leads them to ask new questions. In fact this ability to ask penetrating questions seems like a deep intuition but it seems to me as I see these leaders that it is not so much intuition but the ability to stay engaged in a conversation that gives them the clues they need to work with.

It is not possible to fully function as a leader without these three traits. I am often surprised by those inexperienced managers who believe leadership is the same thing as barking commands. Most highly effective leaders I see ask far more questions than they do make statements. It is this ability to interrogate reality that opens the door to deeper understanding.

How well to you listen? Do you reflect on your days using a dialectic approach or do you simply rewind your opinion, fears, belligerence thus failing to see how your own actions may be a significant part of the problem your team faces? Try these three skills - they will help you grow your leadership capacity and insight.