As you read the following, keep in mind: Effective leadership requires a certain vulnerability.
They say confession is good for the soul. So, here goes:
It is a sad fact of my flawed nature that, too often, the less certain I am on a matter, the more vociferous and vehement my argument. In other words, if I am not careful, the less I know, the more I say.
the less I know, the more I say.
This proclivity arises from pride. The “need” to win an argument or be perceived as right trumps the nobler pursuit of truth. The Be Right bully often outwrestles the Know Right and Do Right twins.
This is damaging to relationships. It is damning to professional pursuits. It is better to know and do the true thing than to be perceived or applauded as the authority on said thing.
How, then, do we frail humans, fraught with pride, protect against these passions of our imperfect, importunate, and sometimes impertinent nature?
Glad you asked. Here are some thoughts. (If you have others or know why any of these are flawed, I am all ears.)
Value truth over triumph.
“Red” Sanders, the UCLA Bruins football coach in the 1950s is famous for having said, “Winning is not everything. Winning is the ONLY thing.” That is a memorable, quotable, rah-rah, go-get-em mindset. For football!
Let’s not, however, take this mentality into boardroom, bedroom, or barstool conversations and disputations. Don’t make every conversation a contest. Make every conversation, instead, an education, a part of your journey to knowing enough to be the best version of yourself and squeeze the most life (and value) you can out of every circumstance.
Risk humility, even if you fear humiliation
Humility is one of those difficult-to-hit moving targets. It is the kind of thing that, if you are proud of yourself for practicing it, you probably never really did. Humility, however, is vital to building alliances and gaining true friends and/or devoted followers. Few things are more valuable in a leader than humility and few things are more damaging than false humility, which is really just thinly-veiled pride.
We have all seen false humility in action. A gorgeous, shapely girl saying, “I’m hideous,” or “I’m so fat.” Or, an athlete claiming, “I’m such a clutz.” Or, a person of supreme intelligence fishing for confirmation by saying something like, “I don’t know much, but…”
You know what I am talking about. We have all seen it and most of us have done it. I know I have.
False humility stems from foolish pride, an over-inflated self-image, and insecurity. Before you say these things are mutually exclusive, let’s think about it. A person constantly thinking about self-image is insecure, no? If he or she wasn’t, there would not exist a constant need to be confirmed.
How fragile the human psyche.
Conversely, humility is actually an act of strength. It takes supreme confidence and healthy self-esteem to yield the floor to another, to collaborate, to acknowledge someone else may have a better idea or deeper knowledge of a subject.
Use conflict to build a coalition, a consensus, and a strategy
William Wrigley, Jr built one of the great American brands. In a March 1931 article in American magazine titled “Spunk Never Cost a Man a Job Worth Having” Wrigley is quoted:
One of the biggest pests in business is the carbon copy—the fellow who always says: “Yes, Mr. Wrigley, you’re absolutely right.”
Perhaps meaning: “Have it your own way, you old buzzard, what do I care!”
Business is built by men who care—care enough to disagree, fight it out to a finish, get facts. When two men always agree, one of them is unnecessary.
The weak leader seeks to surround himself with “yes” men, bobble-heads bubbling over his or her every proclamation.
Don’t yield ground too quickly or easily
If you have studied a situation and have enough observable data or anecdotal experiences to have arrived at a considered conclusion, don’t be too easily removed. Just because you are challenged doesn’t mean you are wrong. If your postulations can withstand the battery of debate, so much the stronger they will be in their implementation.
Don’t be afraid to pull the trigger
Early in my professional journey, I worked on the staff of a man who was fond of saying, “Do something…even if it’s wrong.”
Do something…even if it’s wrong!
In every situation, someone has to be willing and able to say, “Let’s do it.”
Someone has to take responsibility for making a decision and deciding a direction. After all, it is not about winning an argument. It’s about doing the right thing the right way for the right reason with the right attitude.
Liberate subordinates and associates to contribute to the conversation. Listen to others with genuine interest and an open mind. Learn what you don’t know. Lay out what you do know. Lead!