Leaders Fare Better by Thinking Together
He that is taught only by himself has a fool for a master. ~ Ben Johnson
He who builds to every man’s advice will have a crooked house. ~ Danish Proverb
The twin dangers for a leader are to refuse advice from anyone or to take advice from everyone. Smart leaders navigate between these two extremes, selectively choosing people from whom to seek input and counsel. The success of a leader depends on the quality of questions she asks and the caliber of person to whom she asks them.
Young leaders often believe they need to have all the answers. No matter how far out of their expertise a matter may fall, they feel obligated to supply an answer in order to validate their position of authority. However, the “fake it ‘til you make it” approach to leadership seldom works. When you’re ignorant about something, you eventually won’t fake it well and others will be able to tell you’re a phony.
A leader’s job is not to know everything but to attract people who know things that he or she does not. Great thinkers do not birth brilliant ideas in isolation. Rather, they form their thoughts through interaction and communication with others. Shared thinking matures the mind by allowing people to access experiences and perspectives that they do not personally possess. As people bounce ideas off one another, they inspire a higher level of thought than is possible through solo thinking.
Shared thinking is faster than solo thinking. When we try to find the way alone, we fail to recognize dead-ends, and we take unnecessary detours. Relying on our own wisdom, we suffer delays that could easily be avoided by simply inquiring into the experiences of others instead of slogging down the slow road of trial-and-error by ourselves.
Shared thinking is more innovative than solo thinking. We tend to think of great thinkers and inventors as soloists, but the truth is that the greatest innovative thinking doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Innovation results from collaboration. At the beginning, no idea is great. A great idea results from the synergetic interactions of several good ideas.
Shared thinking returns greater value than solo thinking. Not only does shared thinking generate stronger solutions and better strategies, it’s personally rewarding as well. The higher you go up in leadership, the more you realize that true significance and success are found by setting aside personal ambition for the sake of a common vision.
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