You Don’t Have to Know Anything To Be an Effective Leader

Tree growing from an open bookToday’s blog is about knowledge, otherwise called What you think you know. In today’s world, knowledge and the education designed to deliver it are often promoted as keys to what might be thought of as a successful life. But is knowledge the key and, therefore, a kind of guide to a rewarding life? The short answer here is no, it is not the key.

If knowledge is not the key, then what is it, and in particular, how can you think about it in a way that is useful to you as an effective leader? Those are important questions from my standpoint because how you think about knowledge from a leadership perspective can make a big difference in whether your leadership results in repetitive (and eventually frustrating) experiences for yourself and/or a group, or in rich and rewarding new experiences.

So how might you think about knowledge from the standpoint of leading a transformative rather than a repetitive group experience? My answer is to think of knowledge as a phase in a naturally creative and transformative process rather than the key to that process.

Three Ways I Think about Knowledge and Its Role in Effective Leadership 

1. Think of knowledge as a resource. Knowledge is like a contrail, that white vapor trail you see behind a passing jet high in the sky. It can look like the contrail is pushing the jet forward, when in fact that condensation is a creative result rather than the creative source.

That vapor trail floats in the sky with no creative or active power of its own relative to the energy of the jet that created it. Once created, it sits at the whim of the air currents it finds itself in, finally dispersing and disappearing from view. So it is with knowledge.

In the same way that the jet’s energy creates the contrail, the energy that is you naturally creates knowledge. If the plane was guided by its own contrail, it would simply go in circles, endlessly repeating the same experience over and over. The same is true for you if you think of knowledge as your guide rather than as a potential resource. Effective leaders use knowledge as a resource, but they are not guided by it.

2. Knowledge is a temporary or conditional reality (aka conditional truth). Knowledge cannot be absolutely true even though it is true within the conditions surrounding it (conditionally true).

A new experience is fundamentally the creation of new conditions, so truths which depend on conditions (all knowledge) cannot possibility be the guide in that creative process because the new conditions will render the old knowledge false. As a result, guidance by the old knowledge will result in the new experience being rejected and repetitive experience being reinforced.

As an example, my grandfather invented the process of photographing sound on film which made talking pictures commercially viable. An article referring to this new invention (which appeared in the Associated Press in 1927) quoted Harry Warner of Warner Bros. as saying, “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” This is one of many examples of old knowledge being the guide and rejecting leadership offering new conditions and new experience.

So you don’t need knowledge (you don’t have to know anything) to begin to lead yourself and others in creating new experience—even though knowledge will immediately begin to be naturally created and so can appear to be the cause (truth) rather than the effect (conditional truth) of your energy.

Knowledge Is Just a Phase

Think of knowledge as a phase or sequence in the naturally creative and ultimately transformative process of rich and rewarding new experience. The first phase can be thought of as the feeling that something resonates or intuitively calls out to you. That first phase is energetic, not conceptual. The second phase of this unfolding experience is the creation of knowledge and ideas, which are organized in a way which makes them relatively useful (or conditionally true). Effective leaders are guided first by the feeling that something resonates with them, and then they allow that energy to create a temporary reality that includes knowledge as a potentially useful resource in the unfolding of a rich, new experience.

3. Knowledge is never limited by its own usefulness. To put it another way, no matter how useful an idea or ideology (knowledge) might be in the moment, that usefulness does not change the fundamental nature of knowledge as something created; useful knowledge cannot attain the status of absolute or unconditional truth (or guide). Effective leaders are willing to allow conditions to change based on their own intuitive guidance no matter how useful a set of current conditions seems to be.

Don’t Choose a Guide that Can Have You Depressed and Anxious

I said above that thinking of knowledge as guide rather than resource can have leaders creating repetitive and eventually frustrating experiences for themselves and the groups they lead. Consider this quote from an article in NY Magazine  from an interview with Dr. Jean Twenge, a social psychologist at San Diego State University.

NY Magazine

“In short: Ever since the 1930s, young people in America have reported feeling increasingly anxious and depressed. And no one knows exactly why. … There’s clear evidence that the focus on money, fame, and image has gone up,” she said, referring to various surveys that have been conducted over the decades in which young people are asked about their goals and values, “and there’s also clear evidence that people who focus on money, fame, and image are more likely to be depressed and anxious.” (She cites evidence for this sort of long-term attitude change in a bunch of her work, including in a helpful short article she wrote for the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry).

Note that “money, fame, and image,” as referred to in the article quoted above, are all ideas (a particular kind of knowledge or concept in the form of a goal). Dr. Twenge’s reference to people “who focus on” something suggests that they are guided by it, and so we could ask the question, are young people today somehow being trained to be guided by ideas rather than their own unique energy? And if so, are they making knowledge their guide for successful self-leadership and, in doing that, adopting a guide that creates repetitive and frustrating, rather than rich and rewarding new experiences for themselves?

Consider the place of knowledge in your own leadership activities, and maybe also consider how you mentor others in their use of knowledge in both self-leadership and leadership in a group.

As always, your comments and questions provide topic ideas for the blog and are appreciated.

Make it an energetically guided day!

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