Mastering Leadership With a Beginner’s Mind

Even the most accomplished in any field benefit from a beginner’s lesson every now and again.  find a way to revisit the basics to both sharpen your skills and re-ignite your passion for your work.

In the Puget Sound, ferries are the way to get around.  The view from the ferry between Seattle and Bainbridge Island (where I am this week) is breathtaking.  The Seattle skyline, Mt. Rainier, large commercial marine traffic, verdant islands and the Olympic range in the background are breathtaking examples of the most beautiful creations of both nature and man.  The interesting thing to me is that the crowd on the ferry seems split.  Most are reading the paper, working on laptops or going about the business of their daily commute, oblivious to the environment in which they are commuting.  The smaller group stares google-eyed at the scenery, goes out on the weather decks to get the full view and drinks in every moment.  More importantly, the people I talked to who commute (the first group) all say that every once in a while, they look up from their reading and realize where they are.  Every one of them described that moment as awe inspiring.

In meditative traditions, as well as in golf and other sports, there is a tradition of taking a beginner’s lesson.  Starting with a beginners mind encourages us to do several things:

Pay attention to the basics.  We are so busy focusing on the more advanced techniques at our learning edge that we often forget basics.  Even the most advance professional golfers, for instance will have their coach check out such basic things as grip, stance, alignment and posture.  One client recently describes getting into a political imbroglio with another VP over a territorial issue.  “I learned long ago not to have these kinds of meetings when anyone is hot.  But when she wanted to talk about it, I let myself get buttonholed for ‘a few minutes at the end of the day’ without proper preparation.  We spent 2 hours going back and forth with no resolution.  And now she is angry because she thinks I am stonewalling her.”

Recapture your passion.  Approaching something we know with a beginner’s mind reminds us of the wonder and joy that is only available to absolute beginners.  Regardless of the skill, there is that first time when we have success, even at the most basic level.  The first time we actually strike a golf ball cleanly, make a first sale or that the mysteries of a balance sheet become clear, we take a giant step forward both emotionally and intellectually.  The learning curve on most skills is pretty steep.  We learn a lot early, but then big steps in learning become rarer.  We have to work harder and harder for smaller and smaller increments of mastery.  The beginners mind allows us to remember the sheer joy and excitement of that first learning.

Reinvigorate your energy for the work – except when you don’t.  By reconnecting with both the basic skills and the feelings of the beginner, we also are reconnected to the reason we originally took an interest in learning about that particular skill.  Even if the topic is purely mental (cost accounting or computer programming) that reconnection can be an inspirational reminder of why we chose what we chose as a life skill or path.  Or if that beginner’s lesson is dry and uninspiring, it may be a signal that we are ready to embrace a new calling.  Either way, we reconnect to the early days of the practice to see if there is still juice there for us.

So, whether you are the CEO of a global enterprise, a sole practitioner in a home office or a middle manager in a mid-tier company- here is an invitation.  This week, be with the smaller group on the ferry.  Pay attention and take a beginners lesson at some critical part of what you do.  Remember through that experience what inspires you about your work, your organization or your avocation.  See with new eyes and allow yourself to be impressed, inspired or concerned.  Want bonus points?  Invite those on your leadership team, project or workgroup to take the ride with you.