Leadership Requires Knowing When You’re Wrong

Leadership requires knowing when you're wrong

Leadership requires knowing when you’re wrong

As I sat in a meeting with a prospect, the conversation started morphing. Their voice began hitting my ears like the sound Charlie Brown’s teacher made. “Wa wa waa, wa waa, wa wa wa waa.”

It was obvious from the very beginning of the conversation that this person wanted us all to know they knew more than we did. The problem therein was twofold. First, they didn’t. Second, in the end, they are a prospect. Therefore, the first problem was fairly moot.

We’ve all had calls like this.

Probably hundreds of them, if not more. If we really want to be honest, we’ve been on the other side too. Come on…admit it. You’ve been the know-it-all at some point in your life as well. Since I can’t come right out and correct their bad behavior, I’ll try to make my case and address yours. 🙂

The heart of the matter is very simple.

In the realm of addictions, the professionals say the first step in getting better is to admit there is a problem. In our world, that may be more like the first step is admitting you don’t know everything. I don’t know if it’s some sort of prehistoric DNA based defense mechanism or just some innate need to assert one’s self as the apex predator in the meeting. Regardless, it is one of the most unproductive machinations that occurs and really wastes a lot of time.

I recently had a teaching moment with my 7 year old son. He (understandably at his age) feels like he knows everything in the known universe, and he is willing to die (or at least get sent to his bedroom) to defend whatever particular point that is at the forefront of that discussion. The other day he had a mild epiphany whereby he realized, albeit for a fleeting second, that he was wrong. I being the attentive daddy/sensei jumped on that moment and told him, “being a real man and a leader means not only knowing when you’re not correct but more important not always needing to be.”

I’m fairly sure he wrapped his little mind around the gravity of that life lesson for about 13 seconds, and then went back to figuring out how to prove his point was correct. The difference between him and the prospect we dealt with (at least in literal age) was about 30 years. You’d think with age we start to learn, but all too often this isn’t the case.

So what, right? Here’s the point.

Time and time we hear things like:

  • “I don’t have enough time each day to do ‘x’.”
  • “I’m always running behind on projects.”
  • “Nothing gets done around here.”
  • “Lots of activity but very little results.”

Here’s a novel concept.

Maybe it’s not the sales rep’s fault. Maybe it’s our fault. Maybe if we start every conversation with the premise that we don’t know everything, we might be surprised at the deluge of new and exciting information that is out there that people are trying to present to us. The one thing we can’t give you is more time, therefore, it is critical that we figure out ways to maximize the time we do have each day.

Call me crazy, but it sounds a whole lot more interesting than walking out of a meeting feeling like, “you sure showed them!” Bill Cosby once said something that changed my life.

“Do you want to be right or happy?”

Take “happy” and insert anything you’re after professionally. “More productive,” “find solutions to my departments problems,” “get more done,” etc. Now, go into your next meeting, introduce yourself, thank the people on the other side of the conference table for coming in, and just listen.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

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