Watch out for the beginner’s mindset. There may be a real leader thriving at the other end, who is unafraid to grow and fuel growth around him or her.
Here is how I discovered it, and what I have learnt so far.
As an organisational leader, I felt it was my job to know the answer to everything. I had done it all and had the stripes and scars to show. I was expected to have “been there and done that” and the world expected me to know. Familiar?
So having a solution for everyone’s problem was, well everything.
The challenge with this was that I didn’t have all the answers. But saying that was scary. In digging deep into my experience, scrambling for providing “ready to use” solutions, I was building an uncomfortable boundary around me that began to echo un-inventive conversations.
At some point, my experience, my memory bank, my personality, my methods and my approach ran out of juice and I ran out of steam. People around me seemed to find safety in having answers dictated to them but they never seemed to have found the solutions.
Not surprisingly my career and my energy were burning out fast. The world around me was changing rapidly. And I wasn’t learning enough. So, I looked upward for answers and I ended up with an even smaller zone of thinking and operating.
My prefered style of leadership had been creative and imaginative, driven by data and nuance- this is where I had thrived and succeeded. It had degenerated to being reactive, predictable and safe, sapping energy.
I fell out of love with my job(and quite literally out of the job). And finally said to myself and anyone who wanted to hear – “I have no clue how to deal with this”. The most liberating thought I may have ever had.
It took me a while to realise that I had been operating off two ends of a spectrum, one in which I was thriving (and successful) and the other in which I was surviving (and successful but tired and miserable) . And I was both the victim and the fuel for a culture that many other people were surviving or thriving in.
It’s been a long journey, since. I surrounded myself with young people, who questioned every word I said. I put myself back among customers and users and stopped pretending I knew what they wanted or had an excel sheet that could do that job.
I allowed myself to feel the joy of doing things “for the first time”, even if I had done them for years. And learnt to accept and encourage the words “I don’t know”. I began a journey to reinvent my life, in the humble knowledge that I could be a beginner again and again. A learner for life! And that feels good, every time I am reminded of it, sometimes harshly.
I have learnt that as a Coach, as a Leader and as a Leader who is a Coach, perhaps the greatest gift to the self and others is a Beginner’s Mindset. A critical piece of what is popularly known as the Growth Mindset.
A Beginner’s Mindset is the ability to be fully present, listen actively and not be thinking “I already know the answer to this” consciously or subconsciously. To be enquiring from curiosity and not an agenda, however noble.
As a coach, it is the capability to know that each person has a problem that is theirs to solve. And that they must do so in a way that is authentic to them. To enquire without agenda. To be fully present in a space that empowers with no bias.
As a leader, it is a safe space for you and your teams to acknowledge the need to learn, innovate and enquire without bias or judgement.
It is possible to build this mindset but it requires practice and commitment. Here are some practical tips, that I’ve picked up which may be useful starting points. The rest is awareness and practice. I hope they help.
1. Listen actively without an agenda.
2. Absorb what users (internal or external) say to you and how they say it, without thinking about the next thing you’re going to say.
3. Don’t judge. Just observe and engage users without the influence of value judgments upon their actions, circumstances, decisions or “issues.”
4. Question everything. Question even(and especially) the things you think you already understand.
5. Allow yourself to let someone else envision from their view, their lens.
6. Enquire, without assumption like a 4-year-old.
7. Ask “why, what, how?” about everything.
8. Don’t be afraid to follow up an answer to “why” with “why.”
9. Be truly curious, especially in circumstances that seem either familiar or uncomfortable.
10. Find patterns. Look for exciting threads and themes that emerge across interactions. Question them, use them, share them and build on them.
Would you like to hone a beginner’s mindset, help your teams or shift culture? Does the mindset of a child who builds a piece of his imagination with blocks of Lego, before she breaks it down and builds again fearlessly, appeal to you?
If you want to know more about the work, we do help organizations, teams and leaders thrive, our own work and how the beginner’s mindset and growth are central to this effort, do contact us.