Archive for April 2015

How Babies Learn

April 22, 2015

why-explorationOver a period of thee-and-a-half years,  researchers at Johns Hopkins’ conducted four experiments on 110 preverbal 11-month-olds to determine how they responded to surprising vs. predictable situations. They let the children watch a ball pass though a presumably solid wall, an object float in mid-air and an object disappear and reappear. They also had more predictable situations where the ball bounced off a solid wall, an objected obviously supported by something underneath and an object remaining in place without disappearing. The children who witnessed the surprising situations were given the option to explore the object from the experiment or choose new toy. Babies chose the surprising object rather than the new toy.

When they got their hands on the ball that passed through the wall they banged it on the table to check how solid it was. When they held the object that floated in the air they dropped it to the floor to see if it really could fly. And here’s the kicker. The infants showed no evidence of learning anything from a predictable object.

The take-away for us, as adults, is that new and surprising situations; encounters that challenge our view of the world; and outcomes that defy our expectations are prime opportunities for learning. These encounters can provide growth that is transformational, not just incremental. We must embrace those situations rather than retreat from them. They enrich our lives.

Another set of researcher believe that the reason time seems to fly by as we get older is that all those new and novel experiences have already happened. We are only left with the familiar and the predictable. Finding ways to embrace the newness of every day and the new possibilities each encounter brings makes life interesting, more enjoyable and helps us savor every day. This is also the key to effective leadership for the long haul.

Born Curious

April 21, 2015

You know this is true. We are born curious. Three-year-olds, on average, ask their parents 100 questions a day. EVERY DAY! By the age of 10 or 12 they have basically stopped asking. Studies suggest that by the age of 25 only 2% of individuals can think outside the box. The sad truth is that curiosity seldom survives to adulthood.

Ironically, our career paths follow a similar trajectory. When we start a new job we move into our role as a learner. We want to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible. We want more than anything else to become competent. We ask questions. We apprentice those who are more experienced. Our knowledge increases exponentially every day. Then something happens. At some point, having the answers becomes more important than asking questions. Appearing competent becomes more important than growing in competence. We trade in our learning mindset for the level of knowledge we have already acquired…and… we coast.

The dictionary defines “coasting” as “moving forward using no power or very little power; progressing without special effort.” One of my favorite writers on leadership is Lee Thayer. In his book, The Good Leader, he writes: “Most people stop learning when they know enough to get by.” And we wonder why our jobs are boring and unfulfilling. It shocks us when our careers plateau and we slowly slide back down the hill. We wonder why our organizations are stagnant and no one seems to notice or care. Organizations are never more curious than their leaders. It is a problem when our curiosity doesn’t survive into adulthood.

I agree with Dorothy Parker: “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

NHPCO’s 30th Management and Leadership Conference

April 20, 2015

Next week I will have the privilege of speaking at the MLC. My topic is “Continual Leadership Development for Seasoned Executives: Keeping Your Leadership Fresh by Building a Learning Mindset.” I love the topic, though I am not certain whether they invited me to speak because I am “seasoned” (lit. old) or they hope I might have something to say about life-long learning. In the coming days I will post some thoughts about what lifelong learning involves and why it matters, especially as we advance in (years, uh…) our careers.

Several years ago, the University of Virginia conducted a study aimed at identifying the characteristics of “Learning Leaders.” They found that these leaders (1) experienced a number of life events that caused them to dramatically rethink their basic assumptions; (2) demonstrated agility of thought, adapted easily to new situations and saw patterns and connections between seemingly unconnected variables; (3) sought out learning opportunities and learned from many sources; and (4) communicated in metaphors and analogies and conducted discussions in a nonlinear manner.

The shocker of the study is that researchers found that only 10% of executive leaders possessed a learning mindset. One-in-ten kept learning, while the other nine were content with what they already knew or had acheived. Which ones do you think were the greatest asset to their organizations?

The Hardest Person To Lead

April 20, 2015

It doesn’t take long to realize that leadership is hard. You could quickly compile a mental list of people who make that a true statement. But, in the book True North, Bill George says, “the hardest person you will ever have to lead is yourself.” He is right.

The life we have is often the result of poor self-leadership. The greatest obstacle to experiencing the life we want is poor self-leadership. John Maxwell said “If I could kick the person who is most responsible for my problems then I wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week!” The toughest person to lead is not not above me, below me nor beside me. It is me. The most important conversations I will ever have will be the ones I have with myself.

In the book, Derailed, Tim Irwin gives some great hints:

1. Grow in self-awareness by proactively seeking feedback from multiple sources.

2. Find a wise and trusted advisor to help you interpret various work experiences.

3. Be receptive to information about areas in which you are less than stellar.

4. Fine-tune your ability to connect with others.

5. Work on empathy.

6. Conduct a 360-degree feedback exercise.

7. Identify the circumstances under which you are likely to lose your composure – develop early warning systems…

8. Wait longer to say something in a meeting-write it down and test if for appropriateness before you say it.

A Challenge
Take charge of your personal disciplines, attitudes, and communications and watch the changes that occur in the world, and the people, around you.