This article was originally published on November 13, 2017 and has been updated.
Leaders have a responsibility: a responsibility to create an environment of trust, to guide, to create, to motivate, and transform. But to do all these things, a leader must be literate.
And by “literate”, I mean knowledgeable.
Today, information is ubiquitous. It’s found on the tips of our fingers (on the closest keyboard, tablet, or smartphone screen) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
And with information so readily available, ignorance is no longer an acceptable excuse.
But with endless amounts of information available at our fingertips, there also come false facts, “fake news”, internet trolls, pyramid schemes and the like. This is why looking at all this information requires critical thinking and careful evaluation.
How do you define a good leader?
A real leader thinks critically about everything in front of them, and they are accountable for the things they do and say. It is possible to tell the difference between genuine data and pseudo-science; between real facts and false news.
Being able to think critically requires reading beyond the headlines‚it requires evaluating the sources, the author, and the facts.
One of the greatest leadership qualities is the ability to appreciate and comprehend the people you work with. This means making the extra effort and taking the time to get to know the people you work with.
Ignorance may be bliss, but when it comes to being a great leader, leadership literacy is not only essential, but completely achievable.
The 5 Practices of 21st Century Leadership Literacy
With this cautionary counsel in mind, here are 5 practices of 21st century leadership literacy every leader should follow:
1. Google it
If you don’t understand a word or a phrase, look it up. Sure, it takes a minute, but over the course of one month those minutes add up to more knowledge.
2. Use the Internet
If you’re meeting someone for the first time, take the time to get to know them in advance, whether on their website, LinkedIn or Facebook.
I’m not saying get to know the name of their great aunt’s dog, but get to know their career, achievements – even their hobbies.
3. Learn it
For example, if your company is selling a new product, learn how it is made or delivered. Talk to the experts in your company. Ask questions – get curious.
4. Find out more
If something is important to your employees, find out why and how. Talk to your people. Ask questions, and listen to their answers.
5. Do your research
Before “sharing” information as truth, research it. Confirm it comes from reliable peer-reviewed sources. Verify it at Snopes or RationalWiki or FactCheck.
Literacy is a prerequisite; ignorance is unacceptable
Practicing transformational leadership can change lives: theirs and yours. It’s no longer acceptable to run on assumptions, or to not know what your employees or customers already know.
So look it up. Ask questions. Find out more. Check your biases and verify information.
Leadership literacy. Too simple? Or did I get it right? As always, I would love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts by commenting below.
For more about leadership styles and skills, check out these blog posts!
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Enhance leadership development by thoughtfully communicating long-term plans
Leaders who exhibit vulnerability create an environment that nurtures employee learning