Improve Your Leadership in 2010: Don’t Believe Everything You Think
What we don’t know is more important than what we do know. Or as Henry David Thoreau said it: “How can we remember our ignorance, which our growth requires, when we are using our knowledge all the time?”
If one of your 2010 goals is to grow your leadership skills, the most important thing you can do is to admit your ignorance. After all, if you don’t know what you don’t know, how will you know what you need to learn? Here are some questions to help explain this further.
What is more likely to kill you:
If you chose “B” to all of the above, you are not alone. However, the correct answers are “A.”
#1 - You are 300 times more likely to be killed by a deer than a shark. Ever notice the warning signs along rural highways? Deer tend to jump out in front of cars. I know this first hand as a family member escaped death twice when she unexpectedly collided with deer. Shark attacks on the other hand are quite rare despite the visceral response such stories generate within us. They also are sensationalized in news reports. But according to the statistics, there were 108 authenticated unprovoked attacks along the Pacific Coast of the United States in the 20th century. Of those, only eight were fatal. Eight deaths in 100 years.
#2 - Transportation studies show that your chances of being involved in an airplane accident are about 1 in 11 million. On the other hand, the likelihood of being killed in an automobile accident is 1 in 5000. Over 50,000 people are killed on the highways every year. Statistically, this means you are at far greater risk driving to the airport than getting on the plane.
#3 - According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in 150 people infected with WNV will develop severe illness. In 2009 there have been 30 fatalities from West Nile Virus. Each year, in the United States, on average 36,000 people die from flu-related complications.
Human perception is at play in each of these commonly mistaken beliefs. Beliefs that are accompanied with high emotionality tend to distort thinking. Drama easily overshadows logic. When we experience things on a visceral level, our thinking is much more likely to appear factual to us. We regard our beliefs as truths. For example, deer are associated with Bambi who is cute and shy. However sharks provoke intensely aggressive reactions, even if the attack occurred thousands of miles away. Therefore we believe that sharks are the greater danger when that is not the truth. The unfortunate factor involved here is that we don’t question our beliefs when we have strong feelings about them. We convince ourselves that we know.
To some degree everyone has a gap between what they actually know and how much they think they know. Unfortunately, as humans we are frequently trapped by our reluctance to say, “I don’t know.” That kind of mindset, sadly, prevents you from knowing what the missing knowledge is! The solution is to stay intellectually humble.
Make a commitment to challenge your thinking at least once each day. It’s important to seek outside data. Read a professional or business article. Request input from an objective, respected colleague or mentor. Solicit feedback from your staff about how they perceive you. Above all, keep “learning” as a concept at the top of your mind. Recognize that in the complexity of today’s world, no one can know everything. Get comfortable saying “I don’t know,” even if you need to add “but I’ll find out.” Ask for help. Embrace the image of being a life-long learner. And remember, what you don’t know might kill you… almost as likely as a deer, a car or the flu.
As 2009 comes to a close, my wish is that you pause to celebrate your successes and learn from your mistakes. And may that enable you to imagine new dreams and new visions for 2010.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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