Five things leaders must do to stay relevant

by John Hilton18 Mar 2016
In this day and age, it’s crucial for modern leaders to pioneer, be curious and explore, according to Dr Jason Fox, motivation strategy & design expert, and author of the new book ‘How to Lead a Quest: A handbook for pioneering executives’.

“The pathway to irrelevance is littered with reasonable decisions,” he told L&D Professional

“These are safe and prudent decisions where you have got past precedent that suggests this is a reasonable path of action.”

Dr Fox spoke to L&D Professional about five things leaders should do to stay relevant:

Ask more questions

The first thing for a pioneering leader to do is ask more questions. Curiosity is one of those invisible things because it’s not something you can set performance targets for. It’s just something that we need to embed. The cultures that are going to be more resilient and more anti-fragile are the ones that value learning, and the key to do that is to ask more questions.

Have a rich and diverse information diet

All leaders have habits as to where they get their information from, but this is something that we should get very deliberate about. Every morning we should have something that feeds our curiosity. There are wonderful apps that aggregate media content. Leaders can get so busy that they are not feeding their minds. Therefore, they are going to be relying on past experiences to make decisions about what to do tomorrow, and that’s not good. 

Cultivate options

Pioneering leaders draw information from a diverse range of perspectives. The definition of default, as in default thinking, is an option we choose automatically in the absence of viable alternatives. The only way that we can challenge default thinking is by coming up with viable alternative options. This means that we need to cultivate alternative ways of working. In business, we need to have a quiver of options so we can call upon the right strategic decision in the right moment for strategic advantage.

Seek to prove yourself wrong

Pioneering leaders put forth hypotheses, they don’t seek to prove themselves right. In science there is no such thing as failure, there are only disproven hypotheses. Pioneering leaders take a very scientific approach by putting out hypotheses and then prove themselves wrong by collecting evidence. They don’t just sit and think about things and they don’t just settle for the default. They don’t seek to appease their own ego by trying to prove themselves right. They might also empower others to prove their own assumptions wrong by collecting evidence. This scientific approach is what keeps them relevant.

Craft rituals for meaningful progress

It is really easy for us to get swept up in busyness where everything is efficient. We need to be very deliberate at crafting out rituals against the flow of business and efficiency. So ask better questions, be curious and explore these things together. In some organisations leaders have rituals in the morning around what they read and how they ponder ideas. Within teams, they might have ‘lunch and learn sessions’.

They might have shared Friday afternoons where someone might nominate a Tedtalk or an interesting article or a video and they discuss that together. They might have quarterly rituals where they identify the most important experiments they want to conduct in the business. They might have cultural rituals at a yearly level where they’ll celebrate and reward interesting failures that have led to new learning. And these rituals are really important because without them they would be so busy ticking all the default boxes and accelerating themselves on the pathway to irrelevance.