I aim to fight as if I am right, and listen as if I am wrong —
and to teach my people to do the same thing.
#7 of Robert Sutton’s 12 Things Good Bosses Believe should be a no-brainer. Military leaders generally don’t have a problem fighting as if they’re right, but what does “listen as if I am wrong” mean for leaders who are driven, experienced, and trained to perform with total confidence? Let’s start by looking at the antithesis.
Here’s what “listen as if I am wrong” DOESN’T MEAN:
- I talk through the entire engagement
- I don’t ask for feedback or opinions
- I check my BlackBerry while others are explaining their points
- I cram too many topics into a meeting, which prevents discussion time
- I don’t let the team know what I’m thinking
- I only give intellectual or professional consideration to people in my “in” crowd
- I assume I am the most talented person in the room
- I don’t foster open and unattributable discussion
Have you experienced these before? See any trends? The leader is self-focused and assumes that no one else is going to offer anything of value, so he doesn’t prioritize discussion or feedback. Followers easily pick up on that attitude and it immediately stifles their sense of inclusion and participation.
Here’s what “listen as if I am wrong” might look like for a military leader:
- I allow and encourage the team to voice their opinions
- I give undivided attention to whoever is speaking and I TAKE NOTES
- I separate rank and position (including my own) from the discussion and place a premium on the content
- I remain humble enough to brainstorm in front of my own team so they know my creative process
- I ask questions that cause followers to expand and develop their ideas
- I ask if there’s a better way to accomplish the mission
- I seek feedback to discover if my leadership style stifles participation and innovation
- I give praise clear praise to those who get involved in the process and give tough feedback
Sutton’s blog post on Belief #7 highlights examples of how successful business leaders fostered this concept in their teams. One of those key concepts is that a leader should facilitate energetic discussion and ruthlessly-honest feedback between members of the team, which typically leads to a fleshed-out idea with group buy-in.
Questions for Leaders
- Does your team feel like they can tell you you’re wrong?
- How would you know if they did or didn’t?
- From where do you receive feedback about your ideas?
If this post resonates with you, it might also be good for your team.
Please take a moment to share it with your network. Thanks!