Lately, when explaining their process of decision-making, I’ve heard quite a few highly intelligent individuals state that they ask themselves “why do I know I’m right?” It’s a useful question, and a great part of the process of clarifying one’s thinking by removing the emotion of the situation. Sure, there are things we want to be true, and we do a damn good job convincing ourselves that they are; unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that they actually are true.
That’s not enough, though. I think we’re short-changing ourselves if we ask that question and then presume that we’ve done our due diligence. The important follow-up question – the one that ensures that the best decision is made – that we need to ask ourselves is “could I be wrong?”
Over the years, I’ve been part of organizations where leaders couldn’t conceive of this notion. They made decisions like dictators, and never did they ask or seek the council of the people they were paying to be experts. I’ve been in meetings where millions of dollars on salaries are sitting on their hands because the more senior person refuses to hear their opinions because it may threaten their own view. It’s oddly ironic. Sadly ironic, actually.
One thing that leaders need to lead teams effectively is humility, and it takes a humble leader to ask the question of whether they could be wrong. A lack of humility has done many leaders in. Surprisingly, it’s a huge issue for younger leaders, even though you’d think that with relatively limited experienced, they’d be more likely to understand that they don’t know everything. For these younger leaders, it’s not necessarily that they don’t want to be humble, it’s that they think they aren’t supposed to be.
After all, they’ve been brought up to fear being wrong, in many cases thinking that they can’t be wrong. That alone nips any chance of humility in the bud. This lack of humility kills any shot of being an effective leader. As a young CEO I made this very mistake myself. And it nearly killed the company.
I was running a tech startup that I had founded. I believed what I read about “leadership” and tried to emulate those I thought were successful: I acted as if I had all the answers and presumed that if I asked for different opinions that it would undermine my position as the CEO. Think of the lunacy of this: I was surrounded by people I had handpicked to be there, but I felt that if I wasn’t confident and steadfast in my direction that they’d lose faith in me and abandon ship. It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. What’s really concerning is that leadership behavior among younger professionals is trending in this direction.
This isn’t just isolated to young professionals, however. A great many professionals think that asking this question makes them appear weak. In reality it’s quite the opposite. The simple act of asking yourself this serves to check your ego. It also builds trust with your team by showing that you value them. By building that trust, you develop your team members. The more they’re developed, the more they can contribute to the company, and this whole process reinforces itself from there. Make no mistake, asking this question, is the mark of a strong leader. I argue that without asking this question, you actually can’t be a leader.
Ego is a huge issue for people at all points of their career. We all need to ask ourselves if we’re more committed to being right or accomplishing our mission. To ask the question more directly, would you rather be wrong and have our team meet its goals or be right and see the team fail. We may all publicly say that we’re about the team meeting its goals, but deep in their hearts, many truly wouldn’t choose that option.
As your team sees you questioning your own viewpoints, they’ll do the same. The result is an organization that thinks critically and clearly. One that isn’t blinded by ego, but rather illuminated by the truth. This simple question is a great weapon to unleash the collective power within your company or organization.
If you only take one thing away, let it be this: the odds that you are right all the time are about the same as winning the Powerball twice. Don’t be the person that is to caught up in their ego to see this. Consider that you could be wrong and devote yourself to leading your team toward the truth that paves the way to accomplishment.