Turning knowledge into wisdom

by | Nov 18, 2019

I like to quote “an unknown meaning for an unknown person”, particularly as it relates to leadership. I would like to attribute someone of far more credence, but I have a vague and weird feeling I made it up.

Leadership is many things, but in my mind, teaching sits at its heart. If you are not prepared to embrace teaching as a leader, you are dishonouring the role. It will impact on your performance and those you lead.

Until recently, we rewarded leaders for having the right answers and making sure those they lead have the same answers. This one-dimensional view will not cut it anymore. The complexity, ambiguity and shifting nature of business means that it is not possible to have all the answers, if not now, but certainly in ever shortening time horizons. 

The leader’s role is now a delicate and somewhat fraught balance between imparting knowledge and helping others to find their own understanding.

There is nothing particularly new in this, but in my experience there is a gap between aspiration and practice even for those who acknowledge the importance of coaching in terms of their leadership.

There is a prevailing reason for this. It is hard to be coached, and soon, the mentor gives up. Progress can be slow, and feels ‘soft’, lacking authority, particularly for those accustomed to a directive style of leadership.

This is leadership’s falsest economy, a distorted and false sense of progress, with leaders in ‘tell’ mode, when coaching is about asking better questions to create insight. 

When I start my workshops with leaders, I ask the participants to bring one thing only, a learner mindset, allowing themselves to be “easy to coach” for the day, explaining that the hardest part about learning is the unlearning required to absorb new information.

I regret not fully understanding the importance of teaching for too long, even in an elite sporting environment and all its emphasis on coaching (teaching) to elicit improved performance.

I was too ‘busy’ trying to win.

It was a time of personal reckoning. It seems crazy, but I had much higher expectations of others in relation to unlocking potential, being the football coaches and their playing charges, than I had of myself in relation to the off-field team. 

I soon realised that to be a teacher, you must be a learner, the mindset to embrace the discomfort and ambiguity of taking yourself beyond the limits of your understanding, but with the view “It is not what I learn today, it is what I will teach tomorrow that is important”. 

This attitude means that your ‘new’ learning is now aligned to your existing understanding (or changed view). 

You have now turned knowledge into wisdom. 

Responsibility and generosity then kick in, and you pass on your layered understanding to someone else, take them to the edge, help them find their own form of meaning.

And the process continues, the ripples of the roundel have started, and who knows where it finishes, passed from person to person, hence “an unknown meaning for an unknown person”.

The arts are a great example of this. People find meaning in paintings, music, prose, dance etc that may or may not have been the intention of the artist, and that doesn’t matter…they have started the discussion.

My drawing above, titled “There is always a race” has been interpreted in many ways, most different to my motivation for drawing it. I am comfortable with this, as art, if nothing else, is about the discussion it creates.

I’ve had people speak to me about a conversation we once had when I was their CEO, from which they made deliberate and significant changes to their lives, and I only have vague recollections of our discussion. 

I have just finished Neale Daniher’s book “When all is said and done”. I have known Neale for 25 years, and still I learned so much from this offering. I have a Moleskin full of notes to ponder and curate. 

The book started as a letter to his grandkids. It is the conversation he will never get to have. He has Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and there is no cure. 

Neale is many great things, but in his heart, he is a teacher. A coach, and he has gifted this book to the world. 

It includes the letter to his grandkids:

“I didn’t write this book to tell you what to believe – I am not that smart – but I wanted you to at least have the chance to know my story and understand what it was that I believed”.

This is truly an unknown meaning for an unknown person.

We have been blessed.

I always enjoy the opportunity to talk all things culture and high-performance, and the development of leaders to achieve it.

Here are three ways to start the ball rolling:

  • I teach and coach an integrated leadership performance system utilising sophisticated learning models and systems garnered from elite team sport, ideal for leaders who are committed learners, who understand the responsibility of leadership. To learn more, please arrange your FOC 30-minute leadership telephone consult to discuss your personal, team or organisational challenges or aspirations, please use this link.
  • Participate in our next one-day Leadership Masterclass which I personally facilitate. It is a sophisticated, intimate and practical leadership intensive for aspirational leaders, both current and emerging. To learn more, and to register, please use this link.
  • Sign up for the “More to the Game” weekly email, and receive a copy of my “What business can learn from football” White Paper. The emails are short leadership reflections, no more than a couple of minutes to read and we will always treat our communication with respect. Please use this link.

You can also contact me at cameron@designCEO.com.au and let me know how you think we can work together.

Cameron Schwab
CEO & Founder


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