Simplistic vs. Simple Leadership

Are you spending time in complexity?


At Leadercast Live 2013John C. Maxwell, leadership expert and author, explained the difference between simplistic and simple leadership.

“It's easy to be simplistic, but it's not easy to be simple—don't get the two of them confused,” said John. “Simplistic is shallow and fast. In other words, when we say something is simplistic, there's no depth to it… simple is deep and fast. And my friend, deep and fast is what you want in your leadership.”

Watch the video to learn John’s grid on how to go from simplistic to simple in your leadership.

So let's start with this thought: It's not easy to be simple, but it's effective. It isn't easy to be simple but it's effective. Now, let me tell you what it is easy to do. It's easy to be simplistic, but it's not easy to be simple. Don't get the two of them confused. And so I want to take you for a moment to the process that I have used for years to make things simple. And it doesn't start with simple. It starts with simplistic.

So if we go to the screen for a moment, simplistic is shallow and fast. In other words, when we say something is simplistic, there's no depth to it. And it's very quickly said and usually very quickly understood. For example, we'll say something like this, "Experience is the best teacher." That's simplistic. Everybody says, "Well, yeah, experience is the best teacher. Yeah, I got that. Experience is the best teacher." Very simplistic, but it's shallow.

Let me explain how this process has to work. You have to, in every area of your business, in every area of your leadership, you have to go from simplistic to complex because complex is deep and slow. Hang with me.

So when somebody says, “Experience is the best teacher,” that's very simplistic, but now I say, "OK, let's go dive for a moment. Let's go deep and let's go slow." And I begin to ask myself questions. I ask myself the question like, "Is experience really the best teacher?" So I begin to think of people that have a lot of experience. I think of people that are older. And it doesn't take long diving in this complexity to realize that experience isn't the best teacher because I know and I'll bet you know, come on, I'll bet in all of the sites across America, we all know people that are getting older but they're not getting better. How many of you know at least one person, they're getting older but they're not getting better? Raise your hand. Come on all the sites, get your hands up out there. How many of you are seated beside that person right now?

That second question, that was an IQ test, OK? You see, I run into people all the time and they'll say, "Well, experience is the best teacher," and well, that's simplistic but when you dive it's not the best teacher. You see, how do you go to complex? Complexity requires questioning. You start to question and you say, "Now, wait a minute, is experience the best teacher? OK. Let's look at people that have experience. Look at the job, people that have experience. Wow, they're not the best, in fact, most effective. Or we look at people getting older, well, they're not the most effective."

So all of a sudden you begin to say, the complexity says, "OK, this is deep and slow, and I'm happy to take this simplistic stuff and I'm having to wade through it. It takes a while." But what we understand very quickly is, that complexity says that the simplistic is a half-truth, that it's easy to quote and it's easy to say but it's not solid.

After spending amount of time in complexity, you will go thirdly, to simple. And simple is deep and fast. And my friend, deep and fast is what you want in your leadership. Deep and fast is what you want in your relationships. Deep and fast is what you want in your business. You want something that you can dive into. And it's real and it's solid, and it's got a good foundation. But you also want something that you can grab hold of, and it's quick and it's fast.

Once you go through the complexity and you come out to the simple, you understand what leadership is. Leadership, my friend, is influence. Nothing more, nothing less. And any of you that have read "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership," you understand that's one of the laws. Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.

The grid that I just took you through, simplistic, complex, simple in your business, in your leadership, always take it through that grid because once you come out on the other side, the simple side, that's when you're able to… You have depth to you but you have speed to you.
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John C. Maxwell

John C. Maxwell is a No.1 New York Times best-selling author, coach and speaker who has sold more than 25 million books in 50 languages. In 2014, he was identified as the No. 1 leader in business by the American Management Association...

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