In Beliefs, Change, Leaders

“It is what we know already that often prevents us from learning.” – Claude Bernard

Most of the successful leaders I know pride themselves on being lifelong learners.  They like to talk about how they’re always seeking new knowledge, new ideas, new ways of doing things, and that being open to all that kind of stuff is part of what makes them successful.  And, for the most part, they’re right.

But even the most successful leaders have blind spots.  Quite often, those blind spots come in the form of beliefs that we never question.  Maybe it’s something about ourselves, or our organization, or our customers, or who knows what.  Whatever it is, we all take certain things to be true and non-negotiable when maybe they really aren’t.

I’m not talking about your ethics or moral values or things like that.  You don’t have to re-think whether you should be honest, or whether you should treat people kindly.  Those things really are non-negotiable and unchanging.

I’m talking about things like, what is really the purpose of our organization?  What do the people or customers we serve really value about what we do?  What is the best way to get that value to those people or customers?

Sometimes those kinds of things become stuck in our minds and we think of them as permanent.  Twenty years ago our customers valued X about what we do so that means they’ll value X until the end of time.  False.  Maybe they haven’t really cared about X for quite a while and you just missed it.

Make sure that as a leader you and those around you are taking time to challenge everything about how your organization functions.  Not because you have to – or even could – reinvent all of it on a daily basis.  Some things might take years to change, and maybe you can only change on thing at a time.

But if you’re not challenging everything at least somewhat regularly, then it will become harder and harder to change those things you aren’t challenging.  The stuff that doesn’t get argued about will over time become almost immovable, like concrete that freezes things in place.  And if you have enough of those things, pretty soon the whole organization will be stuck.

Make sure you don’t assume that what you’ve learned still holds, no matter how you learned it or where you learned it from.  Force your knowledge and beliefs to continually prove their relevance.  And if they can’t prove it, then it’s probably time to move on to something better.

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