What Do They Know That You Don’t?

When I was first awarded my Private Pilot’s Licence, I remember one of my instructors commenting “Right, so you know just enough to kill yourself with now.”  It was a not-so-tongue-in-cheek reminder that, as proud as I felt of my achievement, what I’d also done was open up the door to the next chapter.  A chapter that would feel like trying to drink from a fire hydrant.

His sentiment was echoed by a very good friend of mine who had far more experience than I.  “Before you reach your first 100 hours, you’ll do something that will either kill you, or it will scare you so much you’ll never do it again.”  Such is the learning curve of aviation – it is a glorious and intolerant place to grow up.  We learned fast, taking all the information we could get from any willing source deemed more experienced than us – which was mostly everyone within the surrounds of the airfield.

We learned from “war stories” told in the Flying Club bar.  We learned from researching each new airstrip we flew into by asking as many others as possible who’d been there about their experience.  When we “grew up” into professional licences and bigger aircraft, we learned from our captains and the examiners who conducted our flight tests.  When I couldn’t take in let alone write down or repeat the taxi clearance given on my first landing into Johannesburg International Airport (ORT) the other pilot I was flying with repeated it back to the controller for me.  He’d been waiting.  Knowing.  And we laughed later.

As we progressed from the right to the left-hand seat, we learned that it wasn’t only seniority that meant someone else had something valuable to say.  Not only were we trained to listen to the input of all crew members, but each person we flew with knew something we didn’t.  We shared information about routes, experiences, aircraft dispositions and trial-and-error learnings from the greater industry.

I’m currently reading “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos” by Jordan Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist and professor.  I wrote about his first rule a few weeks ago in an article entitled “What Story Are Your Shoulders Telling?”.  Today, I’d like to highlight his 9th rule, which is “Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t”.

Assuming others know something I don’t is what kept me alive in aviation, and appreciation for other people’s perspectives and experiences is something I continue to feel is a vital part of clever and effective leadership.  You simply cannot know everything yourself.  Neither can you see any one thing from all angles.  Those who have experienced it or worked in it themselves will always know more than you – especially about the intricate workings and influences of any given specific.

When leaders assume that the person they are listening to might know something they don’t, they are opening themselves up to new perspectives and ideas.  This can lead to several benefits, including:

Improved decision-making: Listening to diverse viewpoints and ideas allows us to make more informed decisions.  By incorporating different perspectives, we’re able to consider a wider range of options and potential outcomes, leading to better decision-making overall.  The picture we can draw together is far broader and more complex than anything we can see alone.

Increased creativity: By assuming that someone else might know something we don’t, we can tap into the creativity and innovation of our team. This often leads to new ideas and solutions that may not have been considered otherwise.

Improved relationships: When we approach conversations with an open mind and a willingness to learn, we can build stronger relationships with our team members. This relationship-building can lead to increased trust, improved communication, and a more collaborative work environment.  There is little more powerful than truly understanding where another is coming from and why they see the world and their subject matter the way they do.  Listening and understanding this gives us access to a lifetime of perspective we could not have gained ourselves.

Tips for Implementing Rule 9

While the benefits of Rule 9 are clear, it can be challenging to implement in our daily lives, especially if we’re under any kind of time pressure.  I can assure you the gains are worth slowing down to collect though.  Here are some tips for how you can start incorporating Rule 9 into your leadership style:

1. Listen actively: One of the most important things we can do to follow Rule 9 is to listen actively. This means paying attention to what the other person is saying, asking clarifying questions, and reflecting on what we’ve heard. By actively listening, we can gain a deeper and more accurate understanding of different perspectives and ideas.

2. Practice empathy: Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. By practicing empathy, we can put ourselves in the shoes of our team members and see things from their perspective. This can help us better understand the challenges those team members face and develop solutions that are more effective.

3. Be open to feedback: When we are open to receiving feedback from our team members, as challenging as it can be to hear criticism or suggestions for improvement, we can learn from those around us and improve our leadership skills.

4. Encourage diverse viewpoints: Encouraging our team members to share diverse viewpoints and ideas can be done by creating a culture of openness and inclusivity, where team members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas. By encouraging diverse viewpoints, we can tap into the creativity and innovation of their team.  THIS is one power of team, of diversity, of differences.

5. Avoid making assumptions: Finally, we need to avoid making assumptions about what our team members know or don’t know. Instead, if we approach every conversation with an open mind and a willingness to learn, we can avoid biases and preconceived notions, and gain a deeper understanding of our team and their perspectives.

Rule 9 is a powerful tool if you’re looking to improve your self-leadership skills, and your leadership of others. By assuming that the person you’re listening to might know something you don’t, you can tap into the creativity and innovation of others, improve decision-making, and build stronger relationships.  Listen actively, practice empathy, be open to feedback, encourage diverse viewpoints, and avoid making assumptions.  Perhaps it’s worth picking one or two of these to focus on specifically this week?

by Christen Killick

April 17th, 2023

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