Church Leadership Insight: Walk In Stupid Every Day
By: Tim Stevens January 6, 2015
The following is an excerpt from Fairness is Overrated, Chapter Thirty-Two.
Dan Wieden is an advertising legend and cofounder of Wieden + Kennedy. His leadership style is unpacked in the bookMavericks at Work by authors William C. Taylor and Polly LaBarre. I find his example refreshing and uncharacteristically humble for a leader of a huge organization with more than six hundred staff.
Wieden argued that his job is to “walk in stupid every day”— to keep challenging the organization, and himself, to seek out unexpected ideas, outside influences, and new perspectives on old problems.
“It’s the hardest thing to do as a leader,” said Wieden, “but it’s the most important thing. Whatever day it is, something in the world has changed overnight, and you better figure out what it is and what it means. You have to forget what you did and what you just learned. You have to walk in stupid every day.”
Unfortunately, too many leaders walk in every day as if they are the experts. Either because of their positions, tenures, or influences, they act as if they no longer have anything to learn from others (and especially not from the people they hired). They don’t attend conferences, they never ask questions in an effort to learn, and they only read books or listen to podcasts when they are preparing for their next talks.
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Authors Taylor and LaBarre continued,
It’s hard to find an executive who doesn’t appreciate the power of the experience curve—the idea that the more you do some- thing . . . the more productive you become. Dan Wieden and his colleagues also appreciate the power of the inexperience curve—the idea that the more you do something, the more important it is to challenge the assumptions and habits that built your success so as to generate a wave of innovations to build the future.
Interpretation: Just because your church or company is growing, don’t get cocky. Don’t stop listening. Don’t stop asking questions. Don’t keep doing what you did yesterday just because it worked. Don’t surround yourself with a bunch of people who check their brains at the door. Don’t ignore people who challenge your insecurities as a leader—yes, we all have them. Walk in stupid, and you might learn something.
It is all about listening. There is nothing that will empower and encourage your team more than to know you listen to them. John Maxwell said, “The greatest enemy of learning is knowing.”
Authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath put it this way: “Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has ‘cursed’ us.” Those who know stuff walk around as if they know stuff rather than walking around wanting to learn. And no one wants to work for a know-it-all. It pulls down the culture you are trying to lift.
I recently read some good leadership advice coming from Bryan Singer, director of the movie Superman Returns. In Fast Company magazine, he talked about the importance of consulting with his creative team and listening to them. He said, “I surround myself with people who understand me and aren’t afraid to tell me when I’m straying. They’re not sycophants, they’re friends.”
Are You a Learner?
A secure leader, one who listens to learn, creates a culture that is attractive and collaborative. John Maxwell offered these ten questions to self-assess whether you are a learner:
1. Am I open to other people’s ideas?
2. Do I listen more than I talk?
3. Am I open to changing my opinion based on new information?
4. Do I readily admit when I am wrong?
5. Do I observe before acting on a situation?
6. Do I ask questions?
7. Am I willing to ask a question that will expose my ignorance?
8. Am I open to doing things in a way I haven’t done before?
9. Am I willing to ask for directions?
10. Do I act defensive when criticized, or do I listen openly for truth?
This is one area of building a healthy culture that might require a dose of humility and some new skills. If you think you might need help learning how to listen, I guarantee your team knows you do.
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Excerpt from Fairness is Overrated
See book manuscript for footnotes