The Practices of a Non-Linear Leader

Most of us are linear thinkers. We think: first this, then that.

We can’t help it. We’ve been trained that way. We attended first grade, then second grade, then… you get the idea.

In fact, the first big disruption most of us faced in our lives was when we graduated from school. Now what? 

The Practices of a Non-Linear Leader

We knew whatever step we took would not look like the ones that preceded it. And that can create a crisis of confidence. (Some of us dealt with that crisis by kicking the can farther down the road when we returned to graduate school).

You see, it’s more comfortable to keep doing what we’ve done. Disrupting ourselves is—ahem, well—disruptive. Yet, if we want to bring our best game, we’ll do exactly that. As Jonathan Fields put it, “The enemy of creation is not uncertainty, it’s inertia.”

Don’t fly on autopilot. Don’t let your leadership be driven by inertia. Instead, start thinking and leading in nonlinear ways so that you and your organization don’t miss the opportunity to create an exciting future. 

Here are five practices of a non-linear leader: 

  1. They’re inquisitive. Nonlinear leaders ask questions, rather than assume the answers because of their title or experience. They don’t need to be the smartest person in the room. In fact, they prefer when they’re not, because they know they need to listen to and learn from a plurality of voices in order to move forward with the best information possible. 
  2. They’re reflective. Linear leaders repeat the patterns of yesterday, not stopping to think why they worked, just that they did. In contrast, non-linear leaders intentionally set aside time to evaluate rather than react to circumstances. They know how to think slowly and discern whether a prior action will still serve them before charging ahead. 
  3. They’re experimental. Traditional, linear leaders are often scared of failure. And in a world that heartily rewards success and skewers the not-so-successful, you can hardly blame them. But non-linear leaders don’t let the fear of failure keep them from trying something new. They think in terms of hypotheses and tests. Failure does not bother them; it instructs their next experiment. 
  4. They’re resilient. Non-linear leaders know nothing worthwhile is built overnight. They don’t expect success right out of the gate, and they’re willing to try new things until they find what does work, bouncing back from their mis-steps and pressing on toward the goal. 
  5. They’re action-oriented. All too often, linear leaders get stuck doing the same thing that worked before rather than disrupting their business or their industry with a new idea. In business, staying static teaches you very little. Non-linear leaders have a bias toward action. They know they not only ought to, but need to change, because change teaches them about their business and the future.

Linear leaders are on autopilot. They move on to the next thing without questioning if the next thing is the right thing. They don’t see the future as an array of options, just an extension of the past. But not for a non-linear leader like you. For you, the future is not just an extension of the past. It’s the foundation from which a range of attractive options can take you much farther than before. 

Comment below: What keeps you to keep from falling into patterns in your own leadership?

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