What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There is the title of Marshall Goldsmith’s book that details behavioural changes needed to get the summit of business. Goldsmith is an Executive Coach who I met at the Global Leader’s Conference in China a few years ago. The title captures the idea of journey – it epitomises looking back and looking forward whilst suggesting the power of the moment  -the power of the present.

In a single sentence the title is descriptive of the challenge facing contemporary leadership. In a single sentence there is the stark and urgent warning to companies who believe that past success is a guarantee for future success. It is simply not the case. Balancing how we look back and how best to look forward is a critical function of leadership. There has to be an understanding and appreciation for ‘what got us here’ but smart leaders understand that they need to learn from the future, not the past. The single biggest fault line of the ‘Built to Last’ logic was that we can simply implement what ‘great’ companies have done over the past fifty years (or longer) in order to replicate that success. Curiosity, not being afraid to make mistakes, being quick learners, knowing how to think like a futurist, understanding our context and what is shaping it, and asking the right questions are the stepping stones to what it will take to ‘learn from the future’.

Alone Together is the title of Sherry Turkle’s book on the new tools we use to connect, technology tools that are changing our social interaction. I have always enjoyed the fun and humour that is captured in an oxymoron. An oxymoron is the placing together of two incongruent words and examples of such are plentiful: Plastic glasses, jumbo shrimp, airline food, military intelligence and my all time favourite…Virgin Active. The power of an oxymoron to resonate and create meaning and fresh insight is obvious.

Much of leading today’s organization involves both oxymoron and paradox. Smart leaders recognise this new reality and don’t waste energy trying to resolve things that are simply beyond being resolved. A better use of that energy is to try to understand what is happening and build helpful frameworks as a sense-making response to paradox and oxymoron. A good exercise might be for you to pause a moment and consider what paradoxes and oxymoron you have within your environment and then re-examine what has been your response.

Why Should Anyone Be Lead By You?  This is the title of Rob Goffee & Gareth Jones’ book on leadership. I met Goffee when we worked on the same leadership programme in China and was impressed by some of his leadership insights and stories. It has been said that the mind works best in presence of a question. If that is true, and I think it is, then right off the bat it is an evocative question that invites engagement. It is a question that every leader would do well to ask and answer. Leaders are increasingly leading in a context where respect has to be earned and not expected based on the position or title. It is a ‘generational thing’ and not matter how much it might irk you, it is part of the new reality. Get used to it and now go back to that question and give it your serious consideration. It will be sure to yield some beneficial insights and challenges for you as a leader.

All I Really Need To Know I Learnt In Kindergarten is the title of Robert Fulgham’s delightful book on everyday wisdom from unlikely sources. In fact the title for my book, ‘Everything I know about leadership I learnt from the kids’ was sparked by how well Fulgham’s title resonated.

The lesson here for leaders is to be willing to learn from unlikely sources. It is about ‘seeing the invisible’ and once leaders develop this awareness and cultivate the habit, some amazing things start to happen. Many important ‘truths’ get forgotten or neglected on the ‘way to the top’. Leaders forget to play, forget to enjoy ‘doing nothing’, neglect what is important and become victims of the tyranny of the urgent; many leaders I know fail to take time for wonder and stop being curious and inquisitive. They become more used to giving answers than asking questions and so the lessons from the playground become distant memories lost in another time and age. That is a great pity. I once encouraged a group of senior leaders to go to a kindergarten, take off their shoes and socks and play with the kids. It was a real effort getting them there; it was an even greater effort getting them away from there.

When last did you play? What is your source of learning? Why is this so and what might you be missing by failing to learn from unlikely teachers? It is never the lack of teachers that inhibits our learning; rather it is our lack of awareness of the teachers that surround us! I have also come to realise that when the learner is ready, the teacher will appear.

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