Learning is an outcome of work. I learn from every project I work on and every team I work with. The ideal result of learning is achievement of goals, whether solving issues, refining strategies, optimizing execution or innovating. Insight is another outcome of learning, which is critical to forward progress in any organization.
In my experience, proper insight will help answer three key questions for leadership success.
What did I learn…that I didn’t know before?Where do I focus…now that I have this new knowledge?How do I take action…to realize benefit?
As a consultant, if the insight I provide helps a client with these three questions, then I’ve done my job and the client is satisfied.
What did I learn?
The best insight is something not previously known, which could include validation of assumptions or completely new information. In the context of organizational effectiveness and efficiency my observation is that even the best leaders aren’t always getting the insights they should in order to make informed decisions.
Issues include the monumental deluge of data available, speed of decision-making required and remoteness of stakeholders and systems. This leads to the challenge of distinguishing between noise and helpfulness. Leaders should constantly be asking, “Am I learning new information from each metric / report / meeting / project, that helps me lead?” If the answer is no, it’s time to revisit the leadership approach.
Where do I focus?
Leaders are usually accountable for multiple workstreams. Ideally (new) insights are being derived in a variety of areas regularly. The next step is to use those insights to determine where to focus time, talent and financial resources. Information without focus lacks value.
Too many times I see leaders that are under-enabled because they aren’t asking for, or being provided with, insights that help them focus on areas that make the biggest impact. This isn’t to say that focus should always go to the squeaky wheel or shiny object, rather that current, relevant insights should be a guide for resource allocation.
How do I take action?
Once you’ve learned something new and chosen what to focus on, you need to take action. If you can’t take action on what you’ve decided to focus on, the value of insight goes unrealized. Said differently, strategy is important but without tactical execution you won’t go far.
I see a lot of teams that take action (i.e. do tasks) for the sake of getting things done and sometimes just to keep busy. There's progress to be had in this brute-force approach to work, but more often than not there is better, quicker success if action is based on insight and not just on what’s been done in the past. Good leaders are able to discern actionable next steps from the insights they obtain, or work with those who help them do so.
Bottom line…Insight is a powerful tool that guides leaders in the journey from learning to action. Leaders should be purposeful and intentional in seeking insight.