I am a graduate student at George Washington University and I am fortunate enough to be taking a leadership class with a former high-level government official. My professor has served at the highest levels of government, and provides a first hand account how to lead large, complex and bureaucratic government agencies. Every Thursday I’ll post some thoughts on previous lectures that intrigued me, hopefully they do the same for you.
Throughout our careers we will encounter infinitely different situations. How we react from these situations will guide us in how we will learn and grow. However, there are some “learning disabilities” that impair our ability to actively learn and better ourselves and our organizations. There are 7 different learning disabilities that I will highlight here and ask you to reflect on. If you’ve ever encountered these situations how did you overcome them?
- “I Am My Position” – People fail to recognize their purpose as a part of the enterprise. Instead, they see themselves as an inconsequential part of a system over which they have little influence leading them to limit themselves to the jobs they must perform at their own positions.
- “The Enemy Out There” – Everyone has a propensity to find someone or something outside ourselves to blame when things go wrong. This disability makes it almost impossible to detect the leverage we have on problems that straddle the boundary between us and “out there.”
- The illusion of Taking Charge – All too often, proactiveness is reactiveness in disguise. Whether in business or politics, if we simply become more aggressive fighting the “enemy out there,” we are reacting – regardless of what we call it. True proactiveness comes from seeing how we contribute to our own problems. It is a product of our way of thinking, not our emotional state.
- The Fixation on Events – Focusing on events distracts us from seeing the longer-term patterns of change that lie behind the event and from understanding the cause of those patterns. The tendency to see things as results of short-term events undermines our ability to see things on a grander scale. Cavemen needed to react to events quickly for survival but the biggest threats we face today are rarely sudden events, but slow, gradual processes.
- The Parable of the Boiling Frog – Consider setting a frog into a pot of water and slowly heating it up to boiling, the frog will sit there and die due to the heat. Now imagine if the water is boiling then you throw the frog in, it will immediately jump out. We are adept at responding to sudden changes in our environment. We are terrible at assessing slow, gradual changes, even when they threaten our survival.
- The Delusion of Learning From Experience – Many times we think that practice makes perfect, when in fact it may be making permanent. Experience is good (and necessary) but you need to learn about your experience not just implant permanent ways of doing things.
- The Myth of the Management Team – The mantra that “management is right” is a big problem, just as bad as thinking that you “have my own decision” and failing to act upon that. Management shouldn’t distance itself from the rest of the organization too much, as the gap will result in less collaboration and diversity of thought.
Have you experienced any of these “learning disabilities” in your agency? How have you overcome them?
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