After walking across the stage, wearing your regalia and collecting your diploma, it’s natural to breathe a sigh of relief that the days of exams and assignments are behind you. Yet, being a student shouldn’t end with graduation.
No matter how educated you might be or how much experience you have amassed, you always need to keep learning.
The truth is, we remain students for as long as we walk the earth. Nobody has all the answers. Opinions, on the other hand, are a different matter. Everyone has them.
Some are helpful, some are harmful — some seem totally outrageous. The question is, when you share your opinions with others, are you playing the role of teacher, student or peer?
Too often, people limit their own growth by always assuming the role of teacher. This can result in a rather ridiculous, not to mention unhelpful, situation in which the novice tells the expert how things should be done. To avoid this, it’s important to strike a balance between being assertive and approaching a subject with an open mind.
Frankly, I argue that you need to keep your mind open, even when you think you know best, and this is reflected in the cheeseburger theory. If someone has never eaten a cheeseburger and he goes to McDonald’s, then by default, it will be the best cheeseburger he has ever had.
Meanwhile, aficionados who have eaten cheeseburgers from countless restaurants over years might rank the McDonald’s burger way down the list. The logic is clear: the long-standing fan uses his broader experience to form his judgement, while the rookie has no other point of reference.
The broader point here is that it’s easy to confuse a single experience with the best experience — and the consequences of doing so can be serious for leadership. As a leader, you may think your approach is the best and only way.
But, if that’s the case, then you are severely limiting your company’s potential.
Don’t be constrained by your past experiences and preconceptions of what the best is. Who knows, if you try something new, you might just find it works — better.
Jumping into the unknown, however, takes courage. Why do people eat cheeseburgers other than those from McDonalds?
The burger chain, Five Guys, says it’s because someone had the courage to challenge the way things were done and convinced others to try another cheeseburger at someplace better. Then, slowly but surely, the reference point shifted.
Have you ever noticed a leader who only has one way of doing things? When you probe, you usually find that this is the way that person’s own leader led, and so it becomes “the way” to lead, even if that way is not the best.
Imagine I want a guy to try a new burger, but he’s a rookie and whenever anyone mentions “cheeseburger”, he immediately remembers the best (and only) one he has ever eaten. Even if I say, “You must try this cheeseburger, it’s the best in the world,” he will think only of McDonald’s, until he finally agrees to give my recommendation a try.
With two experiences now under his belt, I then take him to Shake Shack and a Burger King. Gradually, as his experience broadens, he realises that McDonald’s is not the cheeseburger utopia he once thought it was.
It is exactly the same when it comes to becoming a better leader. Whatever the subject, once you expand your locus of understanding and realise there are way more options out there, your whole outlook changes — and that means you have a greater chance of improving as a leader.
Can you imagine never eating a cheeseburger other than one from McDonald’s? Would it be the best?
Perhaps, it would be — but only to you. Similarly, your leadership approach may be limited by your education, experience and exposure.
Be bold. Get out there and discover the world of ideas, approaches and new thinking that awaits.
— Tommy Weir is CEO of EMLC Leadership Ai Lab and author of “Leadership Dubai Style”. Contact him at email@example.com.