I was talking with an executive last week about her company’s strategy. She was discouraged that although she believed that they had done a great job communicating the strategy on multiple platforms and venues, her managers still didn’t seem to be making the needed changes to their priorities and acting on it. I think of strategy as a living, dynamic process and in my experience it takes ongoing “talk and walk”: language, action and lots of “how to”. My client paused, looked at me and said, “How do we do that? I don’t think I know how.”
How do I do that?
How often do you find yourself saying that? My guess is that you may feel it more than you say it. I think that is a shame. We have a funny contradiction in our current business climate. We worship experts and expertise, yet we have a world and technology that are changing so fast, what “we know” gets outdated or stale quicker than it used to. I often think of myself as a professional learner because new data and insights about the brain, motivation, work, teams, performance, etc., is constantly emerging. I also work with people from all different backgrounds and industries, at the same time. My executive clients are engineers, fighter pilots, scientists, doctors, marketing, sales and finance leaders. Between their varied disciplines and the organizations they work in, I feel like I don’t know a lot. Often.
This has helped me develop a new mindset about my knowledge and work. Thanks to the work of Heidi Grant Halvorson and Carol Dweck and others, I feel that many days I go to work to practice. More often than not I am running experiments. At this stage in my life, I have a substantial body of work and track record to leverage. That’s true. But there are always nuances, subtle or not so subtle differences in business situations or leaders or teams. There is always something new in front of me in the present moment to learn. I can always do better.
It’s true that this is uncomfortable at times. This makes sense. I am building a different set of “muscles”…the “I don’t know”, “I am not sure”, “Here are some ideas”, and “Let’s try this” muscles and I am getting more practiced at not knowing. Unencumbered by “knowing” what to do, I am adding to a body of work and making changes in real time that will be more effective for the client.
So you can see why when a client says to me, “I don’t know how to do that.” I feel excited for them. I understand. I also see opportunity. There is some soft clay there. There is some room to grow and change. The “hard, impermeable wall of knowing” is making room for a door. In this more adaptable place, I know there is room for practice and that is pretty thrilling.
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a (mostly) monthly post about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.