(by Val Hastings, Coach – MCC-ICF)
One of the benefits of a business’s growth is how our leadership role shifts from doing everything ourselves to shepherding and developing the business – sometimes from behind the scenes.
At Coaching4Today’sLeaders, this means that most of our training programs are led by other trainers, but I still have the opportunity to beam in via video conference to connect with the students and have a Q & A session.
At one recent training, I asked the group what surprised them the most about their week so far. A student remarked that while they thought the week would be about learning, it’s really been more about unlearning.
The other students could relate, and I realized there was a broader truth to this statement as well. There is a great need to unlearn the way we approach leadership and how we interact with people.
How do you unlearn something?
Unlearning is different from learning. In the field of psychology, the stages of learning are sometimes identified as unconscious incompetence (you don’t know what you don’t know), conscious incompetence (you know what you don’t know), conscious competence (you’re a beginner and it still takes a lot of concentration to use the skill), and unconscious competence (you use the skill without thinking about it).
Once you become unconsciously competent at something, it becomes so ingrained it’s hard to shake. Unlearning takes practice, it takes time, it takes intentional pausing and catching yourself.
Unlearning can be quite fun when you’re with a group of others who are also unlearning because it lightens up the process. We can laugh at ourselves and with others.
When you’re learning and discovering something new for the first time, you might say to yourself, “This is good stuff!” When you’re unlearning, you might exclaim, “Why didn’t anyone tell me about this sooner? I can’t believe I’ve been doing it this other way!”
What do leaders most need to unlearn?
- Filling every space by talking instead of listening in silence.
- Trying to fix the problem instead of developing the person.
- Telling someone about solutions instead of asking questions about possibilities.
Unlearning is about awareness and catching yourself using default habits. While learning involves doing something new, unlearning invites you to shift from something familiar. It’s like navigating a new route to somewhere you’ve visited many times. Your car may almost drive itself on your regular route, so you need to consciously stay out of the grooves of that well-worn path and forge a new course.
As different as new learning can be, with unlearning you know you’re going to be uncomfortable. It means being willing to fumble, be awkward, and use new muscles. For example, our coaching students spend the week practicing on each other. They get to really make mistakes or even blow it, and not have the other person fall to pieces. They’re really getting in there to try and use these new skills. That’s an important part of the process.
Remember that just because we’re unlearning doesn’t mean everything we’ve learned before was bad and has to be thrown out. If the only change you make in your next conversation is to make it all about the other person and do more listening than talking, that’s a great start. Anything else is just icing on the cake and raises the bar even more.