Leadership Truth #6 - Great Leaders Never Stop Learning
Life is just a series of learning opportunities. We have one body, an average of about 80 years, and a series of learning experiences. That's all!Great leaders have a higher propensity than the general population to explore and document the learning experiences going on every day. Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over, hoping for a different result." Unfortunately, by that definition, a majority of leaders should be declared legally insane. I am sure many of their subordinates would agree. Why do the best leaders learn better from mistakes?
First, I believe they have a curiosity that won't settle for understanding the direct cause of problems. They thirst for the root cause. They practice the "five why" technique instinctively without even being conscious of it.
"Five why" is a process of asking "why" at least five times when debriefing a problem. By peeling further and further into the issue, you can determine true root cause. Only then can you be assured that corrective action will produce a lasting impact. Most commonly, leaders settle for fixing the direct cause of problems. This means they put a Band-Aid® on the current symptom, but don't address the underlying disease.
Here is how the Five Why technique might sound in a manufacturing environment:
• The product cannot be sold because the boxes are nicked. Why?
• Because the packaging line is hitting the boxes as they fly by. Why?
• Because the cam on the box pusher is out of alignment. Why?
• Because the set screw holding the cam came loose. Why?
• Because the maintenance person did not check it in the last inspection. Why?
• Well, because he was covering two jobs due to the downsizing. Why?
• Because management falsely concluded they could do away with half the workforce and still get everything done.
Leaders who know how to reinforce candor are not afraid of the answers to why questions. This is how they uncover the root cause of problems while keeping people's self esteem whole.
Learning has become a habit forgreat leaders. This may include actually taking courses (or teaching courses, which is the best way to learn material), independent reading, attending seminars, volunteering to serve on local boards, etc. Less brilliant leaders are too busy surviving the day to look around and experience what is really happening.