I have worked with some brilliant leaders and educators and I have noticed the same things about all of them.
No matter their position, they are successful because they see every opportunity as an opportunity to learn. Even when they are in a higher position than myself, they see an interaction with myself and others as an opportunity for them to always stay on top of their game. The other things that I notice is that although they know they do not have all of the answer, they sure have a lot of questions.
Leaders continue to ask questions.
When I think of thought leaders in my school district, I think of people like Jesse McLean and Travis McNaughton, and the amazing ability they have as well as their insights regarding education. They are leaders that make a huge difference in their communities and the one word that I think of when I think of either one of them is “sponge”. They soak in everything they can, but eventually they release they learn and share it with others. They also do not learn only from people that are “above” them in the organizational hierarchy, but they learn from every person they interact with. They focus not only on the knowledge of that person, but they soak in the characteristics of that person and learn about them as people, which is imperative in the change process.
“Every change requires effort, and the decision to make that effort is a social process…human interaction is the key force in overcoming resistance and speeding change.” Atul Gawande
Even when they disagree, they don’t jump in and start defending their beliefs, they continue to listen. They think. They absorb. They think of what they are learning, how they can adapt it, and how they can share.
This does not mean that they agree with everything that they hear. Not at all. In fact, many people simply regurgitate what they hear from someone else and agree openly although deep down, they don’t agree with what is being said. Leadership takes a back-bone to stand up for what you believe in, but it also is imperative to focus on what you can do better. Leaders know that it is not about being right but about doing right.
The next time that you have an interaction with someone, ask them questions, see what you can learn, see what you can take, and see what you can share with others. That is what a “sponge” does and it is a characteristic that is crucial to effective leadership.