September 2019 - Nand Kishore Chaudhary

Efficient leaders learn to unlearn

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NK Chaudhary's efficient leaders learn to unlearn

Most of us live by the philosophy that to learn is quite difficult. Perhaps it can be. What is harder is to unlearn many of the things which are accumulated over the years.

If you go to any bookstore, you will find plenty of books written about various aspects of leadership. Most people in top positions at organizations feel that to be effective; they must continuously be learning.

While learning is not a negative thing, the more potent thing to do is unlearning. It can be especially useful for those in leadership and managerial positions.

According to ALPS Leadership Founder & CEO Philip Liebman, there are three ideas that leaders need to unlearn to improve their abilities.

“Shedding unproductive habits requires escaping the confines of our comfort zone to the place where we challenge ourselves to become the kind of leader we need to and can be,” writes Liebman on LinkedIn’s Pulse. “Unlearning these three habits of thinking is a good place to begin.”

First, leaders are under the impression that they are the only ones that can accomplish certain things. It comes from the notion that everyone else at an organization is entirely dependent on leaders and managers.

There is a misconception that people in top positions have all the answers. However, this type of thinking is egotistical and only hinders creativity. Leaders should always be open to learning from others; the most effective way is to listen to what people have to say – no matter what their position is in the company.

As the years have passed, I have learned to delegate responsibility and tasks to others. Not doing so only hurts the overall organization in the end. I often wonder why leaders who chose to take on all the burdens themselves hire employees. Companies have employees for a reason. Trust them, give them freedom and your people will shine.

Second, leaders often think that their organization cannot be successful without them. While companies do need people at top positions, it is those at the ground level and across the company that takes companies to a higher level. One of the most important things that an effective leader can do is to ensure that a culture of inclusiveness, openness, and trust is created throughout the company. Everything else will fall into place after this.

Finally, leaders who can unlearn will acknowledge that leadership is not a final destination. Leaders need to continually evolve and be willing to admit mistakes and admit misgivings. Those who believe they have all the answers are usually the most ignorant. However, someone who can admit they don’t know something and are willing to listen to others and learn is very wise. It is this wisdom that makes exceptional leaders.

I have always told anyone who works for me that no matter what type of education he or she has, they must unlearn in order to become a productive member of our team. In other words, a person may have several degrees from top universities and still be completely ignorant. Real learning does not happen in a classroom – it happens when we interact with others and listen to their ideas.

As I get older, I realize how much I do not know. This is because I have learned to ignore the ego and listen to my heart. By doing this I am able to admit when I am wrong. It is not an easy thing to do but it makes such a difference when interacting with others. This demonstrates that one is human.

Which type of leader are you?

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NK Chaudhary's One Emotion

It is safe to say that people fall into two broad categories: ones who are influenced by their environment and the ones who affect their environment. There is a big difference between these two types, and you can probably guess under which category good leaders fall.

Noted businessman and entrepreneur Richard Branson recently wrote a blog about the two types of people and came up with an interesting analogy. He describes those people who impact their environment as thermostats and people who are influenced by their surroundings as thermometers.

While it is an unusual comparison, it makes sense because a thermostat controls the temperature while the thermometer measures it. Any leader who wants to be effective will most definitely have to affect the “temperature” around him or her. It means having a big vision as well as a big heart.

I have always believed that in order to make a real impact on the world, you must start making changes yourself. Waiting for someone else to do this is not practical because you may have to wait forever. Everyone has good ideas although we may not always be encouraged to share them. People don’t have the confidence to voice their ideas. As a result, we miss out on a lot of good views.

Everyone – regardless of religion or socio-economic background – has something valid to say. That is why I always strive to encourage everyone to express their thoughts. When we have a multitude of ideas and opinions, only then can we affect change around us.

No one exemplifies a “thermostat” leader better than the late American civil rights pioneer Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His son, Martin Luther King III, spoke about how the environment can influence people dramatically at a recent Virgin Unite gathering.

King was ten years old when his father was assassinated and, in a cruel twist of fate, his grandmother was shot to death six years later. After enduring so much heartache and tragedy, it would be natural for anyone to react negatively. King could have himself followed a path of violence and despair.

However, King did not give in to this impulse. He did not let the circumstances in his environment dictate how he would develop as a person. Just like his father, King became a community activist and civil rights leader. He became the epitome of a thermostat leader.

“Thermometers merely reflect the temperature of the setting they find themselves in, reacting to what happens around them – these are common,” Branson writes. “Far rarer is the leader who can be a thermostat, monitoring the environment, adapting where necessary, and acting to stimulate positive change. It is these leaders who can help create a better environment for everyone.”

Change happens and we should not be afraid of it. However, many do fear change because it is more comfortable when things stay as they are. But if we do this, then there is no progress. I try to embrace change as much as possible. If you view change in a positive light, then those around you will adopt this attitude.

Without these types of leaders, it is challenging to make effective change. Those who are more like thermometers might have a hard time influencing change because they remain stagnant and do not react to their surroundings.

The best leaders can assess a situation and then act accordingly. Some of the steps these types of leaders take may initially seem drastic or even foolish – but they will never fall into the status quo territory.

Good leaders react positively to what is happening around them instead of just observing. Be a thermostat type of leader and take your organization to new levels.