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Iowa Ideas

To provide a nonpartisan, statewide learning experience

designed to explore the key questions and big ideas that will shape the future of Iowa.

Iowans' Ideas: Being a leader and steering the ship

Oct 6, 2020 at 10:15 am

    Iowans’ Ideas are guest columns featuring the views of different Iowans.

    During this time we have all been challenged, and the people around us have been looking to people in leadership now more than ever for direction. The goal of a leader is to help guide people through the darkness, to steer the ship and keep people on a mission.

    The questions leaders have to ask themselves is: As I am guiding, what do I use as my compass? Are the insights of the past what’s important or the opportunities of the future?

    I was once told that you should have one foot firmly rooted in the past to be grounded for your actions in the future. I have learned through ups and downs this advice was well-intended but more hurtful than helpful.

    Avoiding blind spots

    Imagine you are on a large ship and, because of its size, a crew member must walk from end to end to check the water for dangers. For the safety of the crew member, they are anchored to the ship by a rope that is one foot shorter than the ship. Sounds good, right?

    The one-foot difference creates a problem. At the very end of the ship, the one-foot difference creates a blind spot.

    Being anchored in the past can be your blind spot.

    Let me explain. If you are rooted in the past, it limits your potential to move forward. The past can be a great teacher and a horrible anchor.

    As leaders, we need a different approach. We must learn from the past by collecting the pearls of wisdom and using them as insight into the possible.

    We must be open to the possibilities of the future and be willing to move forward into uncertainty.

    Innovation and growth happen just beyond the horizon of what we know.

    If you are like me, you are probably wondering how these two are different in the way we lead. I love using examples. When I was a leader for GEICO, we created coaching plans for our agents to help improve their performance. During the process of creating the plan, you would do research to find the root cause of problems.

    The first time a problem came up, you would spend hours learning to uncover the problem for the agent.

    The second time, you would do a high-level review.

    By the third time the problem came up, you knew what the problem was for that agent.

    Sound similar?

    Challenges need fresh eyes

    When we are growing as leaders, we are often faced with challenges that we don’t have answers for, so we are forced to learn from the people who came before us — learning from the past. During this time, our minds are open, and we are creating and discovering new approaches to solving problems — at least, new to us.

    After we become seasoned, we have seen the problems and leverage our experience to be efficient and use shortcuts. Now our minds are closed, and we are focused less on the why and more on finding a solution — rooted in the past.

    The world around us is always changing and evolving. Challenge yourself not to fall into the trap of thinking what you are seeing now is the same thing you have seen before.

    Approach the challenges of leadership with fresh eyes and a willingness to explore the possibilities.

    Maurice Davis is Empower Program manger at Jane Boyd Community House in Cedar Rapids and founder of ISOOTO Consulting.

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