I think it is time that we dispel the myth of the noble leader who saves the day by the sheer strength of their convictions . . . by staking out a position, absolutely convinced in the superiority of their solution, and refusing to back down. That might make a good fairy tale, but in truth, enduring leaders recognize that “best decisions” reflect a moment in time, and they are willing to course correct (i.e. make a different decision) as new information presents itself.
It may appear to be a careful balancing act for leaders — exhibiting confidence while also remaining open to course corrections — but that all depends on how you define confidence. What if your confidence was placed, not in a sense of superiority of yourself or your ideas but rather in a belief in your ability, and that of your people, to figure out the next best solution? In Adam Grant’s new book Think Again, he suggests that the ability to rethink and unlearn is a critical component for individual or organizational success.
It takes a confident person to challenge their own beliefs and assumptions, especially if those beliefs and assumptions have helped get you where you are. And therein lies the challenge. When you are rewarded for thinking and behaving a specific way, we become less likely to rethink what we believe to be true. And yet, if we are to learn and grow — as individuals and as organizations — we have to be open to doing things differently. As Marshall Goldsmith noted, “What got you here won’t get you there.”
Rethinking a position, approach, or idea is not about right or wrong (although there are plenty in our polarized world who would like you to believe that.) Rethinking is about curiosity, possibility and the desire to achieve more. It is not about discounting everything you know to be true, but is about imagining a future that is different from the present and then taking step to proactively position your organization for that future.
Granted, it can be more comfortable to listen to the voices that agree with us, that don’t push us out of our comfort zones. That’s why it’s important to recognize that rethinking isn’t personal, it’s about working your way through a puzzle. As Grant notes in the book, it is about scientific thinking, experimenting with various options, considering a range of ideas and yes, making mistakes on the way to finding breakthrough solutions. It is about being more committed to finding a solution than to being “right.”
And we need leaders to guide us on that journey, perhaps today more than ever before. Are you up to the challenge? Might be worth rethinking.