When I was a young leader, I made the mistake of thinking that I knew more than I really did. I was working on criminal justice issues for a DC non-profit organization. I had excelled at both criminal law and criminal procedure in law school. I had written for The American Criminal Law Review. I had worked at The Institute for Criminal Law and Procedure during my summers.

Boy, was I wrong.

There was so much I did not realize or appreciate, including
the nuances of policymaking and implementation, the history behind programs and the varying perspectives of different key stakeholders.

As I matured and became more experienced, my ego receded and my self-awareness grew. My mistakes forced me to grow my humility and my modesty. I realized that I had so much to learn – about my career area and about leadership in general.

The path I traversed is common for most leaders.

When we begin our leadership journeys, we usually are feeling two knowledge realities:
-We know what we know, and
-We don’t know what we don’t know

It is obvious that we know what we know, but for many aspiring leaders, unfortunately they do not realize that they don’t know what they don’t know. They have not learned enough about their chosen fields of endeavor or about leadership to be aware of their knowledge gaps.

When we realize what we have to learn in order to become more effective leaders:

-We can enroll in leadership graduate programs
-We can take adult education classes in leadership
-We can apply for volunteer leadership positions within our communities
-We can follow leadership thought leaders online
-We can watch leadership webinars
-We can attend reputable leadership conferences
-We can read the highly acclaimed leadership books
-We can identify leadership mentors
– We can keep leadership journals

These activities will help move us along the path towards knowing more of what we don’t know and striving to reduce our skills and knowledge gaps.

Eventually, we move to an experienced and knowledge-filled juncture. We gain significant self-confidence. We see learning as a natural part of our life. We soak in lessons from mentors and younger colleagues.

We arrive at a point where we don’t know what we know.

How can that be?

Think about it. Our best leaders, humble and caring men and women, know so much about leadership that it simply comes naturally to them. They do not have to think about what they know because it has become part of who they are and how they show up every day at work and within their communities.

These wise leaders know that learning about leadership is a lifetime journey that never stops. Oh – you think it stops when we retire? Nope – it continues.

We can still learn more about leadership every week from the people with whom we volunteer at community organizations, from friends and former colleagues, from our grown children, and from our own clients.

So please stay aware of your own paradigm about learning.

No matter how old and experienced we are, when we think we know everything about any subject, that is when we are truly in trouble.

Please pay attention to the words of that wonderful philosopher, Shunryu Suzuki, who wrote many decades ago:
“In the mind of the beginner, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.”

You may be considered an expert by other people in your field or occupation.
You may be invited to write journal articles.
You may be asked to speak at national and international conferences.
You may write books offering sage advice to the next generation.

If these are goals for which you are aiming, I hope you will achieve them.

However, for your own sake as you travel down your unique leadership path, please do not consider yourself an expert! If you remain humble and quest for more knowledge, you will indeed arrive at the point where you don’t know what you know.

At that stage, you do not stop learning but you are well situated to share your leadership wisdom with others who are eager to learn.

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