The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

The ability to learn

Every project is different, every situation is different, and no one knows what the consequences of one’s choices will be. There can only be a hypothesis as to how things will come together.

This is as true for leaders as it is for anyone in a team.

The simplest approach is one of trial and error. Whatever situation is coming up one uses existing experience and acts. If it works it is luck, if it doesn’t, it is bad luck.

While there is no possibility to know the answers beforehand, there still is a possibility to master the differences and chosen activity. And that is through developing the ability to learn. And maybe a more precise way to describe this is to call the ability to learn the ability to develop one’s experience.

While it may relate to one’s competence, one’s skills, or one’s knowledge, the learning at stake here is a different one. It is based on deciding what it is one is seeking to achieve, deciding what actions will support that endeavor, and developing an idea of what consequences these actions will have. Acting while knowing how one answered these three questions provides the ground to compare them with the outcome.

The possibility to learn then lies with everything that didn’t correspond to one’s answers as well as within everything that had not been covered by these answers.

Especially for leaders, this ability to learn has a relational component. Much of what hasn’t been covered by the answers they developed is in the experience of their team, their stakeholders as well as their environment. By finding a way to get that input and relate it to their actions leaders learn and show how they learn. It is how they contribute to building trust with their surroundings. The input they take allows others to develop a sense of having an impact and of having a leader who listens and learns.

An essential ingredient of such learning is the sense that errors can be forgiven. The more a team idealizes a leader and projects their expectations on a leader that he will care for them, the more a leader will fear that his errors will not be forgiven and will thus try to hide them.

Avoiding learning then becomes a solution to hide errors.







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