A friend of mine called me the other day with a story about some advice he had
given a client, which the client had declined to follow. My friend was wonder-
ing two things: (1) Had he given the right advice? (2) What could he do with
this experience? The good news is that there were no damages. The client was
happy in his decision to forgo my pal’s advice, and the client’s company still has
faith in my friend. Personally, I feel my friend’s advice was most sound; it was
in keeping with standard practice, as well as consistent with the company’s cul-
ture. The executive was being inconsistent. But so what else is new? What is
refreshing is my friend’s willingness to reflect on the situation and seek ways to
learn from it. Such reflection is all too rare in our corporate culture, so when
you find examples of it, there is cause for good cheer.
What Have You Learned?
Inventors are natural self-learners. Their livelihood depends on finding possi-
bilities where others have either hit a roadblock, or, more likely, never looked.
By probing and questioning, or taking apart, they hit on solutions. They may
Let’s face it, if you ain’t got no brains, you ain’t gonna be able to lead
anyone anywhere. Pure and simple. Good leaders are those wise
enough to know their range and their limits.
An army of asses led by a lion is vastly superior to
an army of lions led by an ass.”
make a sketch, or a prototype. But good inventors do not stop there. They keep
at it. It is amusing to look at first drawings of famous inventions from the fax
machine to the telegraph, the photocopier to the computer; few of them are
recognizable in finished production. Although improvements come from oth-
ers, it is the inventor himself who keeps pushing, and in the process learning
new possibilities for this product, as well as others.
A client of mine once told me that he had a boss who said a job was
never finished until you had determined what you had learned. There is a ten-
dency to dig into projects gone bad, but conduct too little examination of
things gone right. In both examples, rarely did all go wrong or right. There are
lessons to be learned from each situation. This is not navel gazing, its a form of
self-learning. Managers can encourage self-learning in a number of ways.
Set the standard. Management is about setting expectations and following
through on them. If you want to encourage a process of self-learning, practice
it at staff meetings. The focus of study is not an individual, but the team. Set
aside time on a regular basis, perhaps once a month, to talk about what the
team has accomplished, what it has done well, and what it could do better.
Focus strictly on collective behavior, not individuals. Then close with sugges-
tions for how to do it better the next time.
Perk up your ears. Listen to the hallway. When a team is clicking, there is a
buzz of energy in the air. You can hear it in the way people speak; their talk is
upbeat. You can discern it in their mannerisms; they exude confidence. When
things are going poorly, exactly the opposite applies. People are bad-mouthing
themselves as well as others. Managers have to be attuned to these signs and act
when necessary. When things are going swimmingly, you just want to make sure
they keep on keepin on, as the old song goes. When things are floundering, you
want to throw out the life vests and pull people to shore and find out what you
can do to help them. By listening, you take the first steps toward learning what
is happening.
Watch for blind spots. Just as drivers cannot see around obstacles, neither
can managers. We are blind sometimes to our own strengths as well as our
weaknesses. Three-sixty degree evaluations, where peers, bosses, and subordi-
nates are asked to evaluate performance, illuminate blind spots. What the man-
ager does with the information gleaned from the evaluation is critical. To

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