I am going to introduce two concepts to you that, when aligned, can dramatically improve your success as a leader. Those two seemingly unrelated concepts are humility and informational interviews.
Let us take these concepts one at a time starting first with the concept of humility as it pertains to leadership. Leaders wield great power and influence that, when used the wrong way, can be ego-based and destructive. This is why many organizations are operating in a grossly dysfunctional manner. On the other hand, when applied in a deliberate and skillful way, that same power and influence can be the catalyst for accomplishing great things within the workplace. How does a leader ensure that their power and influence do not go astray and instead are used for the betterment of the organization? One of the ways to keep the ego in check personally and professionally is with humility. Now there are many ways to develop humility, but I am going to focus on one, informational interviews.
You may know about informational interviews as a tool used in job search activities. In that context, they are typically short meetings conducted by someone searching for a job to learn more about a role, a particular company, or even an industry. I always recommend that my clients conduct informational interviews if they are looking for an internal promotion or an external job change. That is a sure way to get their foot in the door for a job and it is considered a form of networking. However, informational interviews can be leveraged for much more than just job search activities.
The entire goal of an informational interview is to expand your knowledge base and learn.
A unique angle to the traditional informational interview is to conduct them within your own organization just for learning purposes, not for a career move. Leaders get so busy with the day-to-day work that they neglect to simply connect with others and learn from them. In addition, in many organizations the culture encourages, expects, and even dictates that leaders have all the answers. Or, at least, that the leader gives the perception that they have all the answers.
That expectation is a breeding ground for ego if someone is not scrutinizing themself carefully. This entire dynamic puts a great amount of anxiety on some of my clients because, as we all (should) know, having all the answers is an unrealistic expectation. No leader should ever be expected to have all the answers, but they should know what resources can supply them with the answers. That is where informational interviews can make the difference between ego and humility.
By conducting an informational interview, a leader is simply making a list of people they want to meet with to ask questions. Often, I work with my clients to help them come up with a list of these people and then a list of open-ended questions for the meeting. I recommend that this become a consistent activity occurring at least a few times a month. I can honestly say that my clients have come away from these informational interviews with a new perspective on business problems, a better understanding of other departments, and a deeper awareness of the needs of other teams. They also end up with an expanded list of professional contacts. Using informational interviews in this way encourages a leader to ‘learn’ instead of ‘know’, reduces the ego, and increases the level of humility.
It takes humility to admit that you do not know something, and it takes even more humility to go find the answer.
There would be less dysfunction in the workplace if there was more self-scrutiny and a desire to be humble. It is humility, not ego, that makes a leader and one way to develop humility is to conduct informational interviews.