It's time consuming, painfully slow and boring.
But, speaking with my decorator friend recently, I got a whole new perspective. What I know now is that it's not just about slapping paint on a wall. There's a whole load of serious prep work required; stripping, sanding, washing down - whilst it's a schlep, the end results are palpably different. By doing the work to clear the space and prepare the wall, the new paint holds far better and the final look is incredible.
The inside track from him is that he applies a ratio of 70% prep, 30% actual painting. In other words, the hard work come well before we see any of the final pomp. Now I know. And so do you.
That ratio isn't just applicable to jobbing DIYers looking to spruce up the lounge. As a leader, the principles of stripping, sanding and washing down can have a profound effect on you ability to bring the Boom! to your leadership skills. (Good luck if you can segue from a DIY moan to the power of leadership. Ed)
We go through our careers picking up experiences, knowledge and 'stories', all of which shape who we are, what we know and how we perform. Some of them stay useful until we pick up the gold carriage clock. Others are at best redundant, at worse, toxic. They serve no useful purpose.
Yet, we're sometimes reluctant to let them go. We hold onto them with the misguided fervour that keeps dictators scrabbling for power when the torch bearing hordes are at the palace gates. They become our 'war stories', our 'just the way we do things here' or (sometimes scarily) our 'moral compass'. They get lived out, taught, embedded and can ultimately become career prohibitive; in some cases, those old, 'not-fit-for-purpose' ways of working become the signature on the administrator's letter - businesses go under because their leaders fail to kill what is no longer useful to them as individuals, or the business as a whole.
When coaching C-level leaders, I love provoking this discussion. Why do we hold onto so much sh*t?
The nub is that holding onto knowledge that is useless only blocks our brain and behaviour with anachronistic, old fashioned thinking that directly impacts our ability to lead right now. You can't unleash an expensively hired, incredibly bright and insatiably hungry team if your playbook is Ordnance Survey in a Google Maps world.
Indeed, if you're not able to strip, sand and wash down your mind, you'll never get the incredible result that your hard work demands (I knew you'd do it. Ed)
3 words will get you there.
You're always learning. You've been doing it from day dot. Potty training, writing, kissing...you name it, you've learnt it. When mapping out where you want your leadership to move to, understand what's in your armoury and what's useful. Keep it, nurture it and nourish it. It's the bedrock for the great stuff to be built on. It's the wall on which we paint.
Unlearning is the conscious recognition that you no longer need to adhere to old behaviours.
If it doesn't work for you, strip it, sand it, wash it off the wall.
This is the hard part however. It takes conscious effort and, most importantly, time to unlearn. It requires a lot of self awareness, honesty, feedback and ego bashing to out it and remove it. It's the 70%. But it absolutely cleanses the palate for you to unlock new ways of thinking and doing that will unleash your leadership Boom!
The final 30% is relearning. This is the powerful, intrinsically motivating part of the process. We have so many opportunities to relearn from those around us, an abundance of knowledge from books, blogs, videos and the dogged determination of testing and learning for yourself. Focus on where you want to get to, identify the gaps and hungrily seek out ways to meaningfully move forward.
This isn't something that you do once and shelve. It's like painting the Forth Road bridge... but more fun and impactful. Constant iteration of your knowledge, powerful self-awareness to get rid of things that are no longer useful to you and the ability to unlock new behaviours with meaningful execution will unleash your leadership Boom! and create massive wins for you and your business.
Don't just take my word for it. This prescient view from Alvin Toffler sums it up beautifully.
"The illiterate of the 21st century won't be those who can't read and write. They'll be those who can't learn, unlearn and relearn"
For more on this, buy our book 'Creative Superpowers' and read how the mindset for the 21st century drive creativity.