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Human Leadership 101: Be The Archaeologist Not The Architect

After 15-ish years in the world of people development with a host of different organisations. I’ve most certainly noticed a few trends on the things people managers, and quite often new people managers, get wrong about their role.

One of these is thinking they need to know everything now they’re responsible for other humans.

I have some home truths for you. You don’t become a people manager and wake up the next day as a fountain of knowledge on what’s the right thing to do every time, all the time.

Even though many of us in various stages of our careers have probably given those we report to some form of mythological god status in our own minds. That doesn’t mean this is anywhere near reality.

People leaders are humans just like the rest of us.

That means we screw up too! And we don’t know the answers to everything, but we do our best to build an environment of support and work through challenges together.

I feel that after a few years in a manager role, most of us know this. Yet, when at the beginning of our people manager journey, it can be easy to fall into a zone of thinking you need to know it all.

After all, being responsible for other humans is an incredibly important if not the most important responsibility one can undertake (shout out to the parents reading this too, you saints!).

The biggest mistake we can make is thinking we know it all and have to get it right all the time.

I was recently watching a video from YouTuber Ali Abdaal on a topic completely unrelated to this but he used an analogy of how one can identify a business niche that I felt could be reworked for the world of leadership development.

Be an Archaeologist, not an Architect

So, you’re probably thinking already, WTF! Is he talking about? Stay with me here, it will come good, I promise.

When we step into people management roles it’s common to think with an architect’s mindset.

What this means is that we shift gears in our minds to think that we need to meticulously plan everything out and have all of the blueprints in place to know where every brick should go.

Yet in an ever-evolving world, and one where your knowledge will increase and decrease during different career moments, you cannot have a perfect blueprint on what to build.

An architect is also someone who has decades of experience of discipline in their field. Their experts for the most part, so this allows them to create pretty solid blueprints that create beautiful products but even they still don’t get it right all the time.

For new people managers, and even some experienced ones, this is the classic example of running before you can walk. Those of us with decades of experience in people management still don’t have the answer. So when you start out, you most certainly won’t either.

The problem arises that many of us become so concerned about what people think of us as managers, that we’ll stick with an architect’s mindset and pretend we know the answer to every little thing. This will of course become troublesome for you and those you’re responsible for.

This reminds me of a classic line from the film “The Dark Knight” where the Joker reveals “Nobody panics when things go “according to plan”. Even if the plan is horrifying!”

So if being an architect isn’t going to help us succeed, then what will?

Enter the Archaeologist…

Archaeologists are constant seekers of knowledge. They don’t know the answers, but they want to know and spend all their lives continuously seeking and learning.

In many ways, they operate with a beginner’s mindset. They spend their days learning about new things to help them build their knowledge base. They mostly do this through various methods of discovery in the flow of their life.

This is not too different from the approach that people managers (and really all of us) should take to our own growth and knowledge.

It’s impossible to know everything and be perfect in every situation. Life is a continual journey of growth. We might think we’re shit hot at something one week and then realise the next that we still have much to learn.

By taking the operating principles of an Archaeologist, we invite ourselves to accept that we don’t know it all, aren’t expected to know it all either but will spend our days discovering how to get better through the act of seeking knowledge.

So the summary of all these thoughts is this.

You don’t know it all and no one is expecting you to either. Becoming a good manager takes time and discovery. We’re all constantly learning and growing in this crazy ride called life.

If you lead with curiosity, seek knowledge and connect with people on a human level, you’ll do well. And one day You’ll be able to not only dig for knowledge but create too.


Before you go… 👋

If you like my writing and think “Hey, I’d like to hear more of what this guy has to say” then you’re in luck.

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