The key to becoming a better leader? Question your assumptions

Wharton’s Adam Grant and Dean Erika James share five ways executives can rethink their assumptions about what it means to be a good business leader.

When Wharton professor Adam Grant sat down to write his new book, “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know,” he wanted to make the case for why executives should reconsider their approaches to how to manage people in a modern workplace and embrace new ideas, based on systematic evidence.

Screen shot of Adam Grant and Erika James.
Wharton’s Adam Grant and dean Erika James. (Image: Courtesy of Wharton Stories)

Grant is an internationally recognized thought leader in management and workplace dynamics and the co-director of Wharton People Analytics. In discussion called “Inside the Mind of Professor Adam Grant” sponsored by the Wharton MBA for Executives Program, Grant spoke with Wharton Dean Erika James, an organizational psychologist, to discuss the importance of questioning your assumptions of how to engage and communicate in the workplace, in order to become a more evolved leader.

Grant and James cite resistance to new ideas as a common workplace problem. “I’ve spent most of my life frustrated that I come into workplaces with systematic evidence, and leaders say things like, ‘Well, that’s not the way we’ve always done it,’ or, ‘That will never work here,’” Grant said.

When it comes to leadership, don’t assume it is not a “soft skill.” In fact, it’s one of the hardest things to master. James challenged an assumption she’s frequently heard about leadership skill sets being described as “soft skills.” “It’s been my experience that it’s the hardest thing any leader will do because there’s no equation,” she said. “You can’t plug in some numbers and get an answer. Every circumstance is different and it requires your own level of emotional intelligence, intellect, and interpersonal savviness to be able to get out the best in the people that you’re working with.”

Read more at Wharton Stories.