Why Ignorance Is Not Bliss for a Leader

We’ve all been “clueless” at some point in our life, the place where you “don’t know what you don’t know.”

When you first became a leader, you were probably clueless about a lot of things. But not for long. Organizations may tolerate a lack of awareness from some folks, but they don’t let it go for too long with their leaders. Being ignorant of the facts is not on the list of excuses leaders can use.

First Rule of Leadership – Everything Is Your Fault

Getting stuck in “clueless” is dangerous for a leader.

Holding an underlying belief in “ignorance is bliss” as a leadership strategy is a sure path to failure. When you hear leaders using the more socially acceptable “not having enough time” or “it’s not my job” explanation for not dealing with people problems or thorny cross department issues, what you are really hearing is their belief in “ignorance is bliss.”

Leaders get stuck in clueless because the alternative state, being anxious, (where we “know that we don’t know”) is too uncomfortable. It’s the place where we have to make a conscious decision to change how we are managing or thinking, or pretend there is no problem, or that a problem doesn’t have anything to do with me.

Being Anxious Is a Good Place to Be

Anxiety serves a critical role for leaders. It can jump start your curiosity, making you most open to learning. It’s when you can acquire the knowledge and skill you need to solve a problem, create a new solution, find a new way. However, if you don’t capture your anxiety and manage it with thoughtful reflection, you’ll find yourself in one of two places:

the activity trap: where you feel compelled to take lots of action or create lots of activity with few results; or,

the dig in your heels trap: where defensiveness takes over and you resist any efforts for change.

“Healthy leaders possess three features of intellectual health – deep curiosity, an adaptive mindset and paradoxical thinking – that will equip them to handle the complexities that beset an organization.”

Excerpt from Bob Rosen’s book, Grounded: how leaders stay rooted in an uncertain world.

Move from Anxious to Curious

How you think about things creates the framework for how you will respond. If you think feeling anxious is bad, too uncomfortable, then you will most likely postpone dealing with the red flags that pop up in your team or department.
Things will fester and then you’ll have to deal with the explosion.

Instead, build a curious brain. Take the time to stop and take a breath, reflect, or simply ask a question. When you invest in learning, then you can actually get to problem-solving faster.

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