HAVE YOU EVER read a book that suited your personality and also fed your learning aptitude? This book, Out of the Question: How Curious Leaders Win seemed tailor made for me. I’m a question asker, note taker, contemplative listener, and a life-long learner. The authors Guy Parsons and Allan Milham wrote this book for leaders who need to engage with their teams and improve results through optimal interactions. From leadership styles to productive conversations, it’s all here in this one volume. The sub-title is How Curious Leaders Win. I admit I was curious.
I have zero education in Psychology. Well, I took the one requisite intro course to satisfy core academic requirements, but I didn’t study behavioral characteristics. These two men expertly portray with clarity the differences between Knowers and Learners. They basically focus on Leaders who are called Knower Leaders or Learner Leaders, but they also bring into the picture unique ways to be a leader of Knowers and Learners. If this doesn’t sound familiar to you, and it didn’t to me, think of management philosophy ‘back then’ and ‘now’. Leaders of the past were expected to know everything. They got their power from title, position, degree, or how many certifications trailed their name. Telling people what to do was how work got done. They were Knower Leaders. A shift in management philosophy from Knowing to Learning is transformational. Leaders who have the Learner mindset are changing the way work gets done by helping themselves and their teams find the best way to achieve results.
People want to be part of the solution process. The leader who recognizes this will also recognize that, even though they are the leader, they don’t know everything and don’t need to know everything. Learner Leaders foster an environment of possibility thinking where everyone on the team, including the leader, take time to pause, imagine, and turn ideas into the next project. Learner Leaders approach business strategies not as a planned trip, but as a journey of discovery. Knower Leaders are at a disadvantage because they go only as far as their own limitations. Engaging others and adopting a learner mindset has advantages such as more engagement, higher quality outcomes, faster learning because there are combined skills, knowledge, and experience. Learner Leaders admit they don’t know it all. They shed their ego and drop the control in favor of being part of the team who designs and develops solutions together. Leaders, if you want to reduce your stress level and job pressure, become a Learner Leader.
I admire someone who takes a moment to think before speaking. In that moment, is the power of the pause. How do you accept bad news? What gets your energy going when ideas are tossed around? When things don’t go as planned what is your reaction? “Ask yourself how often, when things don’t go according to plan, you pause to reflect and learn before charging forward.” If you want to have a productive conversation turn off the reactionary noise, and pause. That contemplative pause is your first step to mindfulness that’s both reflective and proactive. The authors share, in one chapter, their easy technique for creating the pause. As an advocate of pausing before speaking, I agree that pausing creates a sense of calm in the brain so thoughts are clearer.
Asking questions is a way to take a trip through uncharted territory as opposed to be trapped on a prescribed route.”
The idea of a journey rather than a trip is enticing to me. As long as the destination is known, the trip becomes more of an adventure when the specific course is undefined. This is, in essence, the advantage of always learning and being grounded in a learning mindset. The book describes the technique using questions as a starting point for embarking on a journey. The leader’s job is to establish the North Star for the team. The leader uses questions like they are tools where different types of questions fit different situations. Instead of assuming they already know all the answers, Learner Leaders start a dialog by asking the right questions and opening potentialities. One of the key benefits is shutting down negativity and allowing teams to feel like they are contributing and promoting successful outcomes. What are good questions? Is there a magic formula? You might call it that, but the authors have written some excellent guidelines which they refer to as the Art of Asking Questions. They describe how factors such as tonality, inflection, body language, and context are all part of the framework of indomitable questions.
Anyone can adopt a learner mindset. Every person may have a dominant trait that leans more toward Knower than Learner, but they too can adjust their mindset. For one thing, they can start by being open to ideas from other people. Additionally, they can challenge their own assumptions and try to think differently. This is one place where inviting perspectives of others into their experience will open channels of learning. The authors offer methods, based on their many years of experience, on transforming the workplace into a learning environment.
Leading Knowers and Learners is a chapter written for all leaders. Work teams are a diverse mix of personalities and dominant behavioral tendencies. For example, Knowers are driven by data and justification, often using assumptions to monopolize conversations. They use data to stifle probing questions which results in lost incentive for innovation. Learners tend to exude positive energy, looking for possibilities to open a dialog about every nuance and idea. Their enthusiasm, if not corralled, causes loss of focus, invites distractions, and prevents progress. Both Knowers and Learners present opportunities for behavior modification.
The key for the leader is to be a Learner Leader and cultivate a learning culture in their organization. Challenge team members to open their minds to new ideas, ask what they could do differently, and how they could adjust their thinking to see different possibilities. Knowers and Learners will benefit from discovering ways to do things differently, pause and reflect before answering, and asking powerful, purposeful questions.
Leaders, it’s up to you to set the stage, to create the right conditions, align the elements to ensure a productive outcome. This is your opportunity to be innovative in creating the kind of work environment that sets you and your teams up for success. The elements consist of the setting, scope, and zoom. The book explains in far more detail about the setting, the scope of the conversation, and the level of detail. Meetings have a bad reputation, but if justified, well planned, and orchestrated meetings are learning opportunities and productivity generators.
Nobody is perfect. Not even leaders. But anyone can become better – at listening, at asking questions, at being a team player, at being attentive, at being mindful, at accepting new ideas, and that’s just the beginning of how workplaces can be transformed when they operate in their optimal state. The goal for every team member is to be at the top of their game, feel empowered, strong, and confident. There will be challenges that knock anyone out of the game from time to time. This book contains a game plan for high performance. It starts with having a Learners mindset. If you are a leader, being a Learner Leader will keep you on track to engage, inspire, innovate, and win.