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Reverse Engineering Leadership

Most of us have experienced a time or two when we’ve deemed something interesting and wondered how that thing actually worked. Maybe we took it apart and put it back together. Maybe we took it apart and realized we had no idea how to put it back together! Or maybe we just Googled it. But I suspect this “I want to know” experience has happened hundreds if not thousands of times for most of us. That’s why you’ll find popular (and profitable) sites on the internet like what’s(in)side? and howstuffworks. They address our natural desire to reverse engineer the world around us.

This idea of reverse engineering typically applies to processes and tangible objects. In fact, the Wikipedia entry for “reverse engineering” says it is “applicable in the fields of mechanical engineering, electronic engineering, software engineering, chemical engineering, and systems biology.” Notice that it doesn’t mention “human relationships.” But what happens when we reverse engineer our leadership? Wouldn’t that put us on a course to more effectively move our teams and organizations toward success?

When I reverse engineer successful leadership – that is, influencing others to do great things – I see a natural progression that leads back to the very trait that caused me to ask this question: Curiosity.

Walk with me through this, if you will.

We want a successful business (one that makes a profit and benefits people), so we need to take care of the people who help us run that business. To take care of those people, we must actually care about them – we must lead with heart. To truly lead with a heart for others, we must relate to their experiences, challenges, and dreams – we must have empathy. To develop empathy for others, we must understand them – we must get to know them in ways that go beyond their names and job functions. To gain that understanding, we must ask the right questions and process their answers. And to ask the right questions and effectively process what we hear, we must develop a genuine curiosity about the people we’re getting to know.

So, there you have it. Curiosity leads to empathy which leads to leading with heart so that we truly can take care of those who take care of our business. If we aren’t curious, we don’t ask and we don’t learn, and, therefore, we limit the depth of the trust we earn and the influence that comes with that trust.

I suspect we enjoy reverse engineering “things” in part because we believe we have some control over them – we can fix or improve the processes and functioning objects that affect our organizations. We can’t fix people. But if we develop a deep, genuine curiosity about them, we can encourage them and support them in powerful ways so that they can do great things. That’s the heartbeat of great leadership.

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  1. Rose Martine

    “First off I want to say awesome blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to
    ask if you don’t mind. I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear
    your head before writing. I’ve had a hard time clearing my
    thoughts in getting my thoughts out. I do take pleasure in writing but it just
    seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally
    lost simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or tips?
    Appreciate it!”

    Reply to Rose Martine

    1. Walt Rakowich

      For me, it’s prayer and quiet time. Take as much as you need to clear your head – 10 or 15 minutes isn’t that much time at all if it shows you where to begin. Some people find that it helps to just write out all the scattered thoughts so you can get them out, and move them out of the way.

      Reply to Walt Rakowich

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