Challenge Your Assumptions
“There's no school for presidents either. We'll learn together.”
—JOHN F. KENNEDY TO ROBERT MCNAMARA, WHO SAID HE
DIDN'T FEEL QUALIFIED TO BE DEFENSE SECRETARY
Although you should avoid getting bogged down in minutiae, as a general rule, you can never learn too much about your line of work, or someone else's. But information and skills are only as good as the uses to which you put them. Kennedy was not afraid of using new information to change his mind about an issue or of learning new skills to help him do his job better. Being able to learn new facts and step back to see if your assumptions are correct is essential to good leadership. Too often leaders won't change their position even when they are wrong because they are afraid of looking weak or indecisive.
“We all learn,” Kennedy observed in 1960, “from the time you are born until the time you die. Events change, conditions change, and you would be extremely unwise to pursue policies that are unsuccessful.”
“Now tell me again,” Kennedy said to his chief economic adviser, Walter Heller, “how do I distinguish between monetary and fiscal policy?”