Leadership can be learned and learning to be a role model leader is a
4 Stephen Covey, The Third Alternative (New York: Free Press, 2011); Roger Martin,
The Opposable Mind (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2009). challenge well worth taking up. Learning is a skill in itself. And what is the best way to develop that skill? I maintain that you learn best by teaching others: by teaching leadership, role model leaders hone their own leadership skills.
The teaching process is best implemented in two stages: inluencing the student to accept and participate in the learning process and engaging in the teach-learn-teach process itself. The irst involves convincing the student that there is value in learning to be a leader; more speciically, learning starts with the student realizing that “I don't know what I don't know” and then accepting that he or she should move towards learning about leading and leadership. This is the inluence required to move people from a state of unconscious to conscious incompetence. The second part of the teachlearn-teach process is the teaching itself and moving from conscious incompetence to conscious competence.
If the organization's values include the philosophy of Everyone a Leader, then the learning process will be natural and effective – part of a leadership learning “culture.” Without this cultural backdrop, the teaching will entail isolated and individually motivated events and will be much less eficient and effective.
Diversity of Thought
Advocating and practising diversity of thought is an important skill for role model leaders to learn. This is the idea that one should seek other points of view, be patient when making decisions, and accept that there will be no single right answer.
Leaders are always dealing with ambiguity. If our organization needs to increase its proit, do we focus on cutting costs or increasing revenues? Which leadership style will get the best results in a given situation? Which of our best engineers will we place in charge of a given project? Role model leaders soon learn that for most important questions, there are no single correct answers. So instead, they establish the options for accomplishing the tasks at hand; then they make their choices unencumbered by the need to always choose a single right answer. They learn to spend their time and effort on a measured, limited number of possible answers – usually three. It is always easier to decide among three options.
It is also easier to make decisions when three people work together. Two people can discuss, argue different logics, and have great dificulty deciding between two right answers to an issue or decision. When a third person is in
the room, that person often listens and hears the two arguments and sees and feels the argument both logically and emotionally. This third person can then intervene and raise the level of understanding and decision making to the point where conclusions can be drawn and decisions can be made from all the possible answers. This is another useful way of using the reconcile model.
There is another useful skill – a tool that is a well-known outcome of the concept of diversity of thought. That tool is often referred to as “diverge / converge.” It is a simple but effective tool for reaching a decision where a number of alternatives are possible. To illustrate, say that you are seeking an answer to an important strategic or tactical issue. A good approach is this:
• List all possible answers. Take lots of time, for the tendency is to select
the “right” answers too quickly.
• Expand on your or the group's understanding of the “rightness” of
each answer. Again, take your time to list the pros and cons for each.
• After this thorough and disciplined divergence of thinking, start to
work on convergence:
– Read and discuss all the divergent information.
– Rate each item on the list you've developed on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is a high degree of “rightness” and 5 is a low degree. It is often wise to have each participant do this in a quiet spot where each can study all the pros and cons.
• Collect all the information, measures, and opinions, then converge on the “most right” answer together – sometimes it will be the one with the highest score, sometimes not.
This is a simple approach, but it is based on some important principles:
• Role model leaders respect the opinions of others and diversity of
• Role model leaders are comfortable with ambiguity but also have
a passion for action preceded by systematic thinking.
• Role model leaders inluence others to make positive change.
And, inally, a most important idea that evolves from this skill: diversity of thought. All leaders beneit from a diverse set of career experiences. The very best leaders will take advantage of and create opportunities to make career changes to broaden and enrich their learning. An example would be the learning when a leader-engineer moves into a sales and marketing team or transfers to a different country or organization.