Leader – Learning to unlearn

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by - Alan Caugant, CEO SUPERHUMAIN™

Given the crisis we are currently experiencing, I wonder if we are in a state of revolution or evolution? Only history will tell on a global level, but we have clearly reached a turning point. On an individual level, there is no such thing as a one-answer-fits-all solution. Depending on the context in which they find themselves, their current state of mind, and their background, the leaders of today will either experience a revolution or a progressive evolution.

Given the crisis we are currently experiencing, I wonder if we are in a state of revolution or evolution? Only history will tell on a global level, but we have clearly reached a turning point. On an individual level, there is no such thing as a one-answer-fits-all solution. Depending on the context in which they find themselves, their current state of mind, and their background, the leaders of today will either experience a revolution or a progressive evolution.

It is obvious, however, that those who choose to take the inevitable changes to come in their stride with a positive frame of mindwill be more comfortable with what lies ahead.

Will this reality make humans more supportive of each other? We are not there yet, but a movement is stirring. The future should not resemble the past.

Understandably, the future fosters anxiety at times of great change. It is normal to be worried, because an uncertain future perturbs us as human beings and triggers emotions that can be overwhelming. To welcome change requires imagination, trust, determination, and learning to unlearn.

 Never stop learning because life never stops teaching  – Anonyme

To be successful, tomorrow's Human Leader will need to develop critical qualities such as being able to perceive what is wrong and learn to unlearn

A change of strategy is necessarywhenever a person realises that the strategies at his or her disposal are no longer effective: human intelligence. When it becomes necessary to unlearn in order to reach another level of competence, the perceptions and interpretations of others prove to be useful sources of information. We cannot see ourselves from the outside. Our brain encourages us to perceive our behaviours as legitimate.

Accepting confrontation is a way to open our senses to new information. Unlearning requires negotiating with oneself about the value of this cognitive effort.

In organizations, consultants, coaches, auditors, partners, conferences, etc. bring as many external perspectives on the relevance of current practices. Every negotiation for change is a chance to discover something unknown. Toremain in touch with other people's perceptions is, in my opinion, intrinsically stimulating.

To unlearn consists in inhibiting a cognitive strategy that has proven successful in a certain context but that proves to be inefficient in a different one.

When a new cognitive strategy is acquired, it competes with existing skills and thereby gives rise to some confusion. Drawing from experience and in accordance with the situation, leaders learn to choose the most relevant strategy. To do so, however, they must be capable of inhibiting otherstrategies which have become routine for they were acquired beforehand.

He who loves to learn is very close to knowledge – Confucius

Anotherastonishing proof arises from the neuromanagement principles that have helped me develop my skills: this inhibition process can actually be seen in medical imaging as the brain reorganizes itself. These experiments have shown that when a cognitive routine is inhibited and replaced with a new strategy, a reconfiguration of the brain circuits occurs.

The new circuits involve the prefrontal cortex, whereas prior to this adjustment the back of the brain (reptilian part) was the activezone.

To progress, our brain needs three conditions: Motivation, the right to make mistakes, and time.

The learning process is simple: one acquires a "gesture" (for example, how to celebrate a success), appreciates the result obtained, and experiences an emotion, which thereby facilitates the memorization of the approach by which my subordinates were delighted.

It is linked to the trial and error process being repeated over time, with an evaluation of the causes forsuccess and failure and the creation of specialized cognitive models. Yes! Learning to value one's team is a skill that can be acquired.

Today,the business goals and priorities at play in some companies lead to attentional automatisms, the perversity of which many managers do not measure. Being focused for many years on economic indicators gives rise todehumanized corporate cultures. People who have been immersed in the same culture for a long time end up not knowing what they fail to see. They have chosen, at some point, to focus on priorities but along the way they no longer realised that automatisms had taken place that dictated their behaviour.

In the current context, remaining focused on a key element or strategy from one's past would be suicidal for it would hinder the development of talent within an organization.

Taking up challenges, persisting in the face of failure, perceiving efforts as the path to mastery, learning from criticism, learning from and inspiring the success of others all require the ability to question one's achievements.

A Leader's ability to unlearn/learn is at the core of his or her human intelligence. Confronted with an uncertain environment and with the effort required by innovation, leaders must be able to implement change management but through situational intelligence. During the transition period, they are confronted with yet more uncertainty, which causes a loss in self-confidence and calls for efforts and initiatives. The leader’s behaviour dependson his or herprofile as a person.

This art of adaptation (or the ability to bounce back) is only worthwhile if the Leaders benefit from their experience and can draw lessons from it.

However, the organizational system of the company itself plays a role. The value given to initiatives and the room for manoeuvre depend on the head of the organization and how learning/unlearning is promoted or not.

This process flourishes best in an environment where a collective momentum is in motion and when the expected gains make sense to the ecosystem players who trigger it.

My advice to any Leader motivated by the perception of novelty and caring management is as follows:

  • • Daring to take the risk of discovery makes it possible!
  • • Learning to give value to differences in perception is the first step towards opening up to new options.
  • • Communicating with others and learning from them can only be effective if you are open to other sensitivities.
  • • Curiosity opens the door to the displacement of repetitive attention and thus offers new opportunities;
  • • Unlearning in order to learn requires the ability to capture new information. Accepting change requires awareness.
  • • Learning to manage pressure comes at the risk of inhibiting the movement in progress.
  • • Learning to shift one’s attention, but also to be satisfied with a different result that initially expected is key in apprehending the future in a positive and rewarding light.

 

As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

It takes time, and the path is/will be marked by observed failures, to accompany others in their new learning process, but each time, the enthusiasm, determination, human intelligence, inventiveness, and benevolence of each person constitutes/will constitute a true wealth for tomorrow's society.