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Henley Leadership Group Blog

This One Trait Will Make You A Better Boss


Previously published on Forbes.com

We spend roughly one-third of our life at work. The question is, do you get a little bit better every day?

The best boss is one who is always becoming better. That means you keep learning—from your team, from difficult circumstances, from your wins and losses, from your friends and enemies. Everything that happens in your world presents something you can learn from. This is what Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset.”

But you have to be dedicated to your own learning and development. One of the pitfalls of leadership is you might assume you have it all figured out, that there is nothing you don’t know. And so you stop learning. This is an easy trap to fall into, and the outcome is a kind of deadened experience. No new adventures, no curiosity, no peeking around the next corner.

 In a recent HBR article The Best Leaders Are Constant Learners, authors Kenneth Mikkelsen and Harold Jarche note:

As we attempt to transition into a networked creative economy, we need leaders who promote learning and who master fast, relevant, and autonomous learning themselves. There is no other way to address the wicked problems facing us. If work is learning and learning is the work, then leadership should be all about enabling learning.

Your Next Project is You

Imagine showing up to work each day knowing that in addition to working on projects, problems and products, you could also work on yourself. Any meeting or conversation may be a context in which you are asked to make progress on overcoming your blind spots—ways you get in your own way and unknowingly hinder your effectiveness at work.

We worked recently with a VP in a mid-sized financial institution. Brian was known for driving his people hard and leading mostly via a command and control. He was slow to make decisions, needing all the facts lined up first. He really just didn’t value collaboration. To make matters worse, he was unconsciously micromanaging his team, which made them feel like he didn’t trust them.

Fortunately, his CEO is committed to growth and development—to helping leaders become better people at work. She encouraged him to make changes.

Brian began by becoming more self-aware about his leadership style and impact. He started to see that his unconscious motivations and fears caused him to behave in a way that was disempowering to the people he worked with.

These insights led him to make some changes: He learned to get out of the weeds and stop managing every detail, instead trusting his team to do what needs to be done.  As a result, his team is more encouraged and motivated to be involved in decisions. And Brian is now inspired by his own results. He wants his organization to have a culture that promotes self-reflection and personal growth, innovation that comes from people trusting their instincts, and communication that builds trust.

Your turn. Consider what you need to be paying attention to as a leader. What is your learning edge? What is there for you to learn next?

If you are a leader with the ability to influence what happens in your organization, I encourage you to think about your team and company from a larger perspective. An organization can grow only if its culture is designed to keep encouraging leaders to learn.