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Knowing Others

Role model leaders need to be able to read the people around them if they hope to change their environment in positive ways. This skill, too, can be learned. That much should already be clear, but perhaps this next point is not: a role model leader seeks reasons to make changes. Unless you learn to test the current state of your environment against alternatives, you will not develop a change mentality. Role model leaders are always looking for better ways to do things and for better models for future states. They embrace a healthy discomfort with the status quo. Again, they seek positive changes to make. Positive change is not an absolute – whether a change is positive or not depends a great deal on others' perceptions of it. So a leader who would make positive change must learn how to understand the needs, wants, and values of others.

Learning to know others is not entirely a matter of experience. It also requires a systematic approach to learn about the other people in your world. And it requires you to watch for transformational changes to make. In inding them, you will also ind ways to inluence others to make change. You cannot know everything about everyone. History is full of people who became role model leaders by aspiring to a better future. Think about the great researchers in engineering, chemistry, medicine, and the social sciences: Linus Pauling and his revolutionary indings in molecular biology; Jonas Salk and his successful development of a polio vaccine; and Peter Senge and his passion for systematic thinking. Each of these role model leaders changed the world in part by intensely seeking to know others and

their environment.

So, how do we learn to know others? Mainly, you learn this skill by training yourself to pay attention to people and things, be they natural or manmade. There is much to be learned by observing and thinking about continuous change in the natural world. Why do plants and animals do things in certain ways? How do they affect their worlds? What can we learn
from evolution? Mostly, though, we can learn from other people. Seek out those who are expert in areas in which you wish to learn more.

If you want to become a better tennis player, don't play with those you can beat easily. In the same way, if you want to lead people, get to know a great leader and learn from that person. Much has been written about mentorship. Without question, it works, but it is also dificult to sustain unless you have a willing and active mentor and you share that person's energy.

The skill of learning how to know others, and the capacity to beneit from that, is largely a matter of active sensing, active listening, and active observing. The best advice in terms of active listening and active observing is simply this: Stop talking! The very best leaders – the ones who understand the beneits to be gained from knowing others – are often the ones sitting quietly in the room and listening and observing. Less skilled leaders sometimes misinterpret this active listening and observing as a sign of weakness, laziness, or disinterest.

Active thinking is another beneicial skill – one that when coupled with active sensing can be very powerful. Listening to and observing others and measuring their ideas, actively comparing them with your own, often leads to even better ideas.

But be careful whom you decide to learn from. Many aspiring leaders – indeed, most people generally – gravitate towards charismatic personalities. Through the centuries, role model leaders have often been understood as charismatic leaders – as the archetypical “great men” or “great women.” There is nothing wrong per se with charismatic leadership; charisma, when coupled with thoughtful competence, is better than the magnetic attraction of a powerful personality who says “follow me” and then takes you nowhere or, worse, to a place that you (or the entire world) never wanted or needed to see. Furthermore, charismatic leaders often get caught up in their own personalities and become enthralled with themselves. For such people, ego satisfaction becomes a more powerful driver than any vision of a better future.

 
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