Popular leadership myth #2 – leaders are effective because of what they know

It’s easy to assume that the leaders you admire are effective and successful because of their experience,expertise and knowledge – but this isn’t necessarily so.

In everyday life, you draw on two sources of knowledge and information to get through. One source consists of what you already know. It’s based on your past, and includes accumulated experience and expertise. The other source consists of what you don’t already know – and you know you don’t know it. For these things you can seek and find the answers, using your experience and skills to find the source of the information.

However, there is a third way of thinking that requires you to step beyond not only what you already know, but also beyond what you don’t know but could easily find out. Beyond the tiny fraction of human knowledge that you know you know, there’s a huge world of knowledge. You know of the existence of some of this body of knowledge – and could learn about it if you really wanted to.

But it would be madness to assume that you were even then approaching knowing everything there is to know; after all, if we already ‘know’ everything, what new thinking will ever really be possible? When seeking breakthroughs, a leader must challenge what is known and inquire into what is possible beyond that. All the greatest breakthroughs in human history, in science, exploration, art, space travel and so on, were made by people who were willing to go beyond what was ‘known’ already and to explore the unknown, sometimes displaying enormous courage in doing so.

From that fleeting glimpse of what is possible, an inspirational leader can engage with others to invent how to achieve something new. Anything you are already familiar with, while useful, is limiting. An effective leader not only finds the best way to use what is known, but also knows when to set it aside.

The more you are willing to recognise that your own thinking has limited your horizons, the more you begin to touch on the boundaries of doing something extraordinary. To be a leader in today’s world, you need to develop this kind of thinking, both for yourself and for the people around you.