It was an interesting sign to have on the school bus I thought – ‘Learners with Disabilities’. Soon the school bus was to take another route to that of mine and then it was gone. The bus was no longer in sight but the bold sign emblazed across the back of the bus stuck with me as I continued on.
Learners with disabilities. What a pity contemporary corporate leaders don’t have that signage on their office door or perhaps on their desks: ‘CEO / Learner with Disabilities’. It wouldn’t be for a lack of space on their desk for we both know that isn’t the problem. The real problem is, that no leader would come close to admitting a learning disability, much less advertize it. The system that has seen them make it to the corner office has long since squeezed out any doubt, questioning or openness to new learnings. Leaders aren’t expected to be ‘learners’ – they’re expected to know; they know what is best, they know what is needed and they know because, well because they have the track record to prove they know it. It is referred to as ‘experience’. As Mark twain so eloquently put it: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so”
If we’re honest, often times we also want them to know for it relieves us of taking responsibility – and gives us someone to blame. So we need to acknowledge that in part, the leader’s knowing is fueled by the expectations of others who look for certainty, answers and direction. After all, isn’t that all part of leadership?
Well this is how it works for the most part and I suspect you know this to be the case. Why just today I learnt of a CEO who used his authority to ensure that a key facilitator in a vital and delicate process concerning his executive team, would no longer be part of the process. The reason…the real reason? Well the Facilitator in question was simply too perceptive and not afraid to share her insights. Way too threatening for him is my guess. Leaders with disabilities: we meet them every day but unlike those school children, they refuse to acknowledge it.
Learning is not easy. For one thing it requires that the Learner is open to new information. Information about themselves, how they do – or don’t do things, about how things work or about alternative opinions and realities that differ from their own. Hearing such things is never easy and taking further steps toward understanding such things requires courage and conviction. It is the way of the Learner. Don’t ever be fooled into believing that the leader’s learning is inhibited by the lack of teachers – the teachers are all around him or her; rather it is the leader’s inability to recognize the teachers that surround them that is the chief inhibitor to the learning process.
This is a problem. Now more than ever we need learner leaders. In a world where the rules of the game are changing as they are; where things will not go ‘back to the way they were’; where a ‘new normal’ is emerging – in such a world, more than ever, we need leaders who are willing to learn.
And the first step? Simply admit to your learning disability. Sounds simple but it’s not. And without that first step, you’ll never get on the bus!