Leadership 4 Learning. #ASK. Leading with a Learner Mindset

Leadership 4 Learning #ASK. Leading with a Learner Mindset.

Change Leaders are Leaders who #ASK

"What got you here, won't get you there" 
Marshall Goldsmith.

After ten years in the classroom, and being someone who people turned to for answers, I found myself in a leadership role involving things totally outside of my teaching skillset. 

Suddenly I wasn't just managing the processes and systems that went with being in charge, but people were now calling on me to lead others. Leading others and managing the challenges that go along with this responsibility required a whole new set of skills. It is different from being the one with the answers, and it is very different from managing processes!

The skills that got us here will not get us there. I have interviewed many middle leaders about their rise to leadership and the challenges they have and face. Woven into the following story are themes from these interviews, and also from my experience, around the biggest challenges we face as leaders. 

In this instance, let's call our leader Sam.

While speaking with Sam, I asked him what he considered to be his greatest asset. He replied, "I'm the answer man, the go-to guy." Hearing this response made me smile and nod, I could relate to that. After all, that is how most of us got into the role of leader, by being darn good at getting shit done. We also most often have a wealth of expertise and answers. 

Sam went on to elaborate, "I've built my whole career around being the person people go to for answers. The bottom line for me is answers and results, that's what it's all about. Get the right answers and be ready to back them up, that's my motto." I asked Sam to rephrase the last statement as a question. His response was "The question I operate with is, how can I prove I'm right?". "Boom." I thought, there it is.

As leaders, we call on our expertise in order to be the one with the answers, and our dogged determination to find the right answers has led us to some brilliant breakthroughs. Often though, leaders can be perceived as "know-it-all's". When this is the case, teams working with such leaders are likely to shut down and not take any initiative; instead, they are more likely to wait for the leader to give answers and solutions. The "I'm the Expert" mindset in a leader prevents teams from being the innovative and creative problem-solvers we need them to be. 

Sam and I discussed a common situation for the "know-it-all" or the "answer man", this being that not much room is left for anyone else's thoughts. The job requires much more than being good at the process and systems. The focus of this work is on people, not objects. Where people are concerned, there's a certain magic in getting just the right mixture between questions and answers. 

“What got you here won't get you there."

Effective communication is much less about telling and much more about asking. Unless you ask questions, how can you make room for new information or find out what people think or need? 

When we interact with our teams, we want them to take the initiative, ask questions, and come up with answers that maybe we hadn't thought of ourselves. Our accomplishments come from the total efforts of the people we are working with, not just from our solitary work. The skills that allowed us to create such dazzling breakthroughs in the past are not the same skills we need to be successful as a leader. In the words of Marshall Goldsmith, 'What got you here won't get you there."

In today's world, it's not enough to have top expertise or the best training in any of the so-called hard skills. Leaders need interpersonal and relationship-building skills, skills for communicating effectively and constructively. Consider these as people skills; these are the keystones of leadership success. The good news is that these are learnable skills.

We need to encourage the kaupapa of asking more and telling less. To remind ourselves to engage our "I'm a Learner" mindset as a default setting rather than the "I'm the Expert" mindset that we instinctively lead with. 

Nga mihi.



Dare to Lead.jpg
Change Your Questions, Change Your Life.jpg
rising strong.jpg

Brown, Brene. Dare to Lead. Random House Publishing Group, 2018.

Adams, Marilee. Change Your Questions, Change Your Life. 3rd edition,  Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2016

Brown, Brene. Rising Strong. Random House Publishing Group, 2015.


From The Archives


Assumptions Part 1

What is impeding learning in our schools? Our “I’m the Expert” mindset is causing us to make assumptions about what others are thinking, feeling, saying and doing. These assumptions are caused by a lack of data and by our culture of TELL rather than ASK.

What Is Happening And Why Are We Making Assumptions?

“In the absence of data, we will always make up stories.”

They may be stories about the “facts” or stories about a person's intentions and beliefs. Either way, having assumptions in the mix certainly does not enhance the communications happening in a school.

#ASK - Leading with a Learner Mindset
Learner/Judger - Marilee Adams Pt 2

Two weeks ago, I was working at a school with the Head of Accounting Faculty. We were in her classroom, and I had asked for some time to sit down with her to discuss how she and her team were developing their curriculum and the use of digital tools to create blended learning opportunities. We began by looking at all of the digital resources and folders on her computer. She explained to me how she had started to use Google Classroom to share the resources with her students. She was proud of what she had achieved - and rightfully so.

However, what I was seeing and hearing resonated with elements of 'I have done it, and I am finished' and I began to wonder why this is the case in so many situations when talking to teachers. So often I hear in conversation "I am finished". We work so hard to create life long learning in our students, yet we seem to be missing the mark ourselves.