Want to grow as a leader? It’s time to think like a scientist.

David Chase  ::  Leadership Development

“If I don’t contradict myself, I am failing to learn.”

— Adam Grant

Getting comfortable with contradicting your previous work, and learning is important but not easy to do. To make it a little easier you need to think like a scientist.

By this I mean don’t let your ideas become your identity. Instead, recognize that every opinion you hold is just a hypothesis, and every decision you make is just an experiment; it might succeed, it might fail.

If you start to base your identity and sense of self and self-worth on what you think is true, then admitting you were wrong is a major threat. If you value yourself on being a lifelong learner, then changing your mind is a moment of growth.

As you step into the world of leadership or continue your journey to promotion, you must separate your ideas from your identity. It is the only way to become comfortable with testing new ideas, those of yours, your boss, or colleagues.

Remember, your job as a leader is to translate & execute the strategy. This includes having to execute ideas that are not your own. Learning to motivate yourself and other people regardless of the source of the idea is the key to growth as a leader. And frankly, translating the strategy for your team into action is hard - many managers get it wrong or don't get it done at all. Your most recent employee engagement scores might reflect that.

To stand a fighting chance at effectively translating the strategy, you first have to understand it intellectually and think deeply about how it's realized within your team and beyond it. It's a moment to recognize that you're playing on the larger team — the company — not your own smaller team, or worse, as an individual. By thinking about it this way, you're clear on how you impact the bigger picture. This should motivate you and help you communicate in a way that motivates your team.

As a new manager, this can be particularly hard to do. You are worried about making a good impression, getting promoted, not getting fired. But at the same time, you don’t have the tools, support, or management model needed to help you be an effective manager, and you haven’t yet got the experience to build your own.

The first thing you need to start testing these hypotheses is a framework. OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) are an incredibly effective way to do this. OKRs give managers the framework to translate the strategy and create purpose. They enable you to test new ideas and drive the execution of them, with clear and measurable progress markers. If your company is already using OKRs then lean in. Get familiar with the framework, and leverage them to get your team, and cross-functional teams aligned on the ideas.

Once you have your OKRs defined, and you have documented and aligned the ideas you want to test, you need to drive focus on them as a way to uncover learnings. Do this with a scorecard. Create a single view of all your KRs and use this in your weekly team meetings and 1:1s. You should talk about the learnings from last week, and what you are going to do this week to move the needle on each KR. Create rigor around this process, including clear takeaways and next steps. This will ensure you make progress as a team week over week, and any learnings are captured and actioned.

The ’test results’ from this weekly operating rhythm will tell you when, where, and what to adjust, before the end of the quarter, and before it is too late.

The important last step is to carry out retrospectives at the end of each test, or period. This creates space to be thoughtful about what you have learned and lets you use the data to inform how you move forward as a team, keeping in mind what is best for the organization.

Shifting to this scientific mindset and putting it into practice makes it easy to say, ‘wrong decision, we need to shift’.

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Additional Reading

You wouldn't start training without knowing why, so don't ask your team to.

You wouldn't start training without knowing why, so don't ask your team to.

Your job as a leader is to translate the strategy and connect your team's work to it.

Question the right things, not everything.

Question the right things, not everything.

Your role as a leader is not to manage everything and be on top of every detail. Rather, it is to build your team, translate the strategy, and then drive its execution by supporting the team, asking the right questions, and holding people accountable.

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