Develop Leadership Skills by Thinking Past the Default
With many teams working from home or virtually, we're re-writing the process for communicating, collaborating, and getting our work done effectively. We're learning to “Doubt the Default”—thinking past the default option of internal work spaces, 1:1s, and meetings, and looking for ways to be more effective as virtual leaders.
Challenging the Process, as defined by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner in The Leadership Challenge, is all about a leader’s search for opportunities to change and improve the status quo at his or her organization. Leaders who Challenge the Process are constantly seeking innovative ways to improve through experimenting and taking risks, then learning from any mistakes or failures along the way.
With 35 years of research, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner have shown in The Leadership Challenge how leaders can practice key leadership behaviors (called The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®) to improve employee engagement and leadership effectiveness. I was reminded of one of the key practice areas recently when listening to a Ted Talk by Adam Grant about the habits of original thinkers.
To me, that talk came back to many aspects of Challenge the Process.
In his talk, Adam Grant sums it up nicely: “It’s about being the kind of person who takes the initiative to doubt the default and look for a better option.” Grant’s Ted Talk calls these people "originals", but I would call them leaders. He notes that even though leaders don’t have all the answers, they focus on doubting the ideas, not themselves. That’s what allows them to Challenge the Process so effectively—they’re continually pushing for better by refining and testing ideas without fearing failure.
There are two fundamental aspects to how leaders can Challenge the Process:
- Seek new, creative ways to improve: Don’t be afraid to find new opportunities by looking outside the organization
- Test out ideas, celebrate small wins, and learn from mistakes: Understand that failure happens on the way to innovation and leaders don’t avoid failure or new ideas
Being original, or being a leader, ultimately comes down to refusing to be satisfied with what’s always been done. Leaders aren’t just content with the status quo, they are inventing and reinventing—even when they make a mistake or an idea doesn’t end how they hoped, it’s a lesson and a learning opportunity.