res·to·ra·tion (noun): the action of returning something to a former owner, place, or condition.
Feeling blasé? Has the shine of interest and curiosity worn off of that dream job that you used to run to and walk home from? Regrettably, those in positions of leadership are reportedly becoming more bored than they would care to admit.
In 1990, legendary Stanford professor, John W. Gardner delivered a leadership speech titled “Personal Renewal” that I would classify as one of the most quietly influential speeches in our nation’s history. Gardner’s speech was delivered to a meeting of some of the foremost business icons in that day. While in this center of the sharpest and most affluent people in the U.S, the focus of Gardner’s talk that day was not on amassing money or power, rather it was on what he called “Personal Renewal” and the leader’s hunger for keeping an edge toward continual growth and learning. His message should be a great reminder to each of us with the advantage of organizational responsibility and authority.
“Boredom is the secret ailment to large-scale organizations.” — Howard Gardner
Rewind to Personal Renewal
How can leaders become bored when observed so busy? Great point, but for a moment today, look around you. How many people within your care are seemingly trapped in fixed attitudes and habits? These patterns form ever so slowly over time and eventually become our unconscious behaviors and visible actions. Some of these habit-forming actions are very good and should be imitated. Unfortunately others might need some work or be discarded all together.
So what is on the other side of boredom? That attitude which allows us to keep learning, growing, developing, and generating the habits of positive life and leadership actions? “Not anything as narrow as ambition,” Gardner told the driven executives in his talk. “After all, ambition eventually wears out and probably should. But you can keep your zest until the day you die.”
The maxim here is be interested. While many of us are on this quixotic venture to become interesting through the hidden tendencies of self-promotion and running dizzily to link into the right circles of prestige and power. Mature and secure leaders will agree with Gardner on this one. Stay interested. As the proverb says, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
Whether you are a gazelle or a lion, it matters not. What matters is that come morning… both ought to be running.
Making it Real
Ask any educator and you will find, we learn the most when we are disrupted through the encounter of cultures, people, and environments that are distinctly different from our norm. Honestly ask yourself: Do I spend most of my time with people who are most like me? Colleagues from the same department, working for the same organization, friends and neighbors with the same economic profile, faith and culture?
For most of us who have arrived in positions of influence and authority, it takes genuine moxy to push ourselves to grow and be challenged beyond the norms of conventional leadership wisdom. The wildly important questions we face as leaders are these:
- Are you learning as an individual, team and organization?
- Assuming so, is your learning in cadence to the speed of the change around you?
- Are you as determined to stay interested as to be interesting?
Remember, it is what you learn after you know it all that counts.