Executive Health and Well-Being

Great leaders are best learners

17 November 2015

Human Capital Alliance managing director Edwin Sim looks at leadership.

Great leadership requires an ability to use informed perspectives to anticipate what comes next and ascertain solutions that ensure success in fast-changing emerging futures.

At the recent 7th annual Drucker Forum, Harvard Business Review’s Kenneth Mikkelsen and Harold Jarche said great leaders are the best learners.

“To find their way in societal shifts, leaders cannot rely on static maps, nor can they hope to manage complexity through fixating on the details.”

Searchlight intelligence

We live in a world that increasingly requires what psychologist Howard Gardner calls searchlight intelligence.

“That is, the ability to connect the dots between people and ideas, where others see no possible connection.”

Reinvention and relevance

Successful reinvention and relevance in the 21st century requires an ability to adjust our way of thinking, learning, doing and being.

“Leaders must get comfortable with living in a state of continually becoming, a perpetual beta mode.

Leaders that stay on top of society’s changes do so by being receptive and able to learn.”

In a time where the half-life of any skill is about five years, the authors said leaders bear a responsibility to renew their perspective in order to secure the relevance of their organizations.

“As we attempt to transition into a networked creative economy, we (also) need leaders who promote learning and who master fast, relevant, and autonomous learning themselves.”

Enabling learning

Leadership should be all about enabling learning.

In a recent Deloitte study, “Global Human Capital Trends” 2015, 85% of the respondents cited learning as being either important or very important.

However, this study also showed that most companies are unprepared to address this challenge.

“The key is to find ways to connect and participate in knowledge flows that challenge our thinking and allow us to discover new ways of connecting, collaborating and getting work done faster, smarter and better.”

Sustainable competitive advantage

Sustainable competitive advantage depends on having people that know how to build relationships, seek information, make sense of observations and share ideas through an intelligent use of new technologies.

“What matters today is being connected to a wise network of trusted individuals who can help us filter useful information, expose blind spots and open our eyes.”

Leaders must scan for signals

Great leaders must be able to scan the world for change signals and be able to act appropriately.

The authors describe how in 1950, the great racer Juan Manuel Fangio likely saved his life at the Monaco Grand Prix by taking a counter-intuitive reaction. He stomped on his brakes while exiting a chicane before the blind Tabac corner instead of accelerating.

“By slowing down, he avoided plowing into a multi-car pile up, which was just out of sight beyond the turn.

In racing folklore, Fangio’s evasive action is considered a miracle.

But why did he slow down?

Recognizing signals

Fangio saved his life by recalling a photograph, he had seen before the race.

The 1936 photo showed that drivers saw that the crowd radiated an unusual dark color as they approached the chicane.

Fangio realized that instead of seeing the crowd’s faces, the drivers were seeing the back of their heads because an accident further down the road was attracting their attention.

He immediately slammed on his brakes.

Creating the future

Great business leaders must have the ability to identify and react to atypical signals in today’s playing fields that are constantly changing shape.

“Sense is how we personalize information and use it. Sensing includes reflection and putting into practice what we learn.”

Leaders must be able to weave together disparate thoughts, experiences and impressions and instantly find meanings for them.

The authors quoted an old saying “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

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