An interview with Gregory B. Maffei, president and chief executive of Liberty Media , revealed an essential capability for leaders interested in enhancing their organization’s adaptability and in turn improving its viability. In a word such leaders need to be facilitators. That is to say leaders must facilitate learning by encouraging critical and creative thinking among the people in the organization.
The development of inquiring minds throughout the organization is central to this. If everyone is thinking—really thinking and not merely rearranging their thoughts—the emergence of new ideas is quite probable. Hence leaders must not communicate that they have the answers, but rather only that they have the questions. Leading is not about knowing the answers it is about knowing the questions! As Gregory noted about his former boss, Bill Gates, “he’s in many ways an egoless thinker. Bill never walked into a room saying, in effect: “I’ve got this idea and it’s got to be right…[he] was always great about saying: “What do you think? What do you think?”
Clearly to develop inquiring minds leaders must model the very behavior and attitude they wish to develop in others. But to do this requires having the courage to publically hold up one’s ideas for examination and challenge.
Critically thinking about something doesn’t mean being a critic or criticizing others. It means having the ability and willingness to think about what you are thinking. As Gregory Maffei explained the great leaders he knows are “always rethinking and rethinking”, what he called having a “frictionless mind.” This level of thinking allows for different perspectives to shed light on an issue and with more illumination comes greater understanding. It is only through understanding that we can improve: as Deming often noted, there is no substitute for knowledge!
To this end this kind of leader engages with others in productive dialogue. They encourage others to share their thinking and also to explore each other’s perspective, always seeking to integrate and synthesize perspectives. It is not about who has the winning idea; it is about how can we use everyone’s thinking to move beyond what we individually understand.