This leadership tidbit comes courtesy of Netflix’s original series, “The Crown,” which I binge-watched this weekend. (Very good show; John Lithgow is particularly impressive as a very aged Winston Churchill.)
Here it is. Do your homework. Always.
Twice in 10 episodes, we saw Queen Elizabeth as portrayed by Claire Foy struggle with situations in which her lack of knowledge created an obstacle to making a good decision for her country.
In the first, we see her trying to be both monarch and sister as she searches for solutions that will allow the Princess Margaret to marry the divorced man she loves. Her advisors tell her only the first part of a law which would allow the Princess to marry anyone she chooses once she turns 25. And so she waits.
Surprisingly (at least, to me), the Queen accepts the advice without any further questions or research. Only to find out that when her sister turns 25 that there is a second part to the law.
In another episode, the Queen faces head-on the fact that she received an education that seriously lacked any of the content of a normal course of studies for a normal child, teen, or young adult. So, as a young woman, she feels like she is at a disadvantage when speaking with other very knowledgeable men in her cabinet and commonwealth. She employs a tutor to fix that problem. In the end, her encyclopedic knowledge of the constitution of the Britain is all she has and all she needs.
In the first example, a lack of curiosity and an abundance of trust led down an ugly road to a decision that was a lose-lose between sisters. Would the decision have been any easier had she explored in more depth the law that was governing this situation more fully? Possibly not, but it would have meant dealing with the implications earlier when less pain might have been inflicted on everyone involved.
The second example illustrates the kind of humility it takes for any of us as leaders to see what we lack and address it.
I remember an older person I know telling me that the older he got, the more he realized how little he knew. That shouldn’t be a self-aware statement for the elderly, but for all of us. Whatever we think we know, we probably don’t know. And whatever we want to know, we need to take action to find it.