The Right Answer

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Most of us have been “taught” that the path to success is to find the right answer. In our formal education, we typically received a good or not-so-good grade based on whether we could come up with the right answer. We landed the job, at least seemingly, because we gave the right answers. We were given the opportunity to take on a leadership role because…well…we were good at providing the right answers. It can be a rude awakening, then, to realize that as one’s leadership responsibilities grow, the number of “right” answers starts to shrink.

As Marshall Goldsmith noted, “What got you here won’t get you there.” Leadership isn’t about the black and white of right or wrong answers. There are lots of smart, talented people in your organization who can make those calls. Leadership is all about living in the gray of possibility and potential, assessing and adapting, and recognizing that even if you look at the exact same trends and listen to the same experts, the best answer for your organization might be totally different from what would work somewhere else.

Leadership is all about searching for, and taking the risk to implement, the best answer not the right one. Semantics? Not really. Because if you are waiting for the clear “right” answer, you won’t be leading, you’ll be following. The “best” answer in the moment takes into account the external environment and expert opinion — balanced against your strategic goals and the internal gifts and graces of your organization — mixed with a wildcard of variables including insight from sources unrelated to your work, individual passion, other priorities, and a healthy measure of gut instinct (otherwise known as a nudge from your innate wisdom regarding the best way forward).

If that seems like a lot of moving parts, you’re right, it is. But here’s the good news: the best answer is not carved in stone. “Best” is more flexible and adaptable to new knowledge, giving you a greater probability of success. Whereas “right” either is or isn’t, “best” is relative. Tomorrow’s best may be better than today’s.

 One final note — making the best decision requires a leader to commit to a direction without any guarantees — that’s the job. So if you’re looking for the right answer for how to lead, here it is: You have to decide.

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