What If You’re Wrong?

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We are called upon every day to make decisions, both big and small. Some of those choices hardly seem like a decision at all — based on routine, our own experience or preference, or an abundance of data — while others are complex with no clear best direction. Some decisions may seem insignificant, while others weigh on us because of their long-term implications. You’re the leader. The decision is yours to make . . . but what if you’re wrong?

Interestingly, simply asking yourself that question will reduce the likelihood that you will be.

In this day and age of (apparent) overconfidence . . . where decisions are often presented as black and white, absolute, a clear right answer . . . too many of us seem to have lost sight of the fact that it is hard to slice an issue so thin that it only has one side. We barrel forward, certain that our perspective is “right”, discounting out of hand someone with a different view or experience. Except people do have different experiences. When you understand that, it increases the likelihood that you will make good decisions.

I’m not suggesting that you can please all of the people all of the time, or that “analysis paralysis” is an option. Decisions have to be made. I am suggesting, however, that before making your most critical decisions, especially those with far-reaching implications, you ask the following questions:

  • Why might a respected, well-intentioned colleague have a different perspective on this issue? (i.e. you don’t get to justify your decision by demonizing or belittling someone else.)
  • What would such a person want me to be aware of that perhaps I haven’t fully considered?
  • How can such variables be taken into account in my ultimate decision?

If you can’t answer those questions, ask someone who can. Not to check a box, but to listen to what they have to say. As a leader it is easy to surround yourself, intentionally or unintentionally, with people who see the world as you do. People who will cheer you on and support your perspective. And yet . . . if your decision is the right one for your organization, it should be able to withstand a thoughtful challenge. And if it can’t, wouldn’t you rather know before you made the decision so you can consider other options?

Leadership is about guiding your organization toward its stated goal, not about being “right.” Thus, it is not a lack of confidence, but an abundance of commitment to the larger goal, that prompts a leader to consider, “What if I’m wrong?”

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