At what point did it stop becoming okay to have a different opinion in our country? I just finished reading the newspaper and yet again, having a different point of view quickly degraded into personal attacks by both parties. We have become the hyper-sensitive generation who can’t seem to tolerate a perspective that is different from our own. A democratic culture is supposed to foster an environment of healthy debate which hopefully leads to the best possible outcomes for the majority of people. It is through exchanging wide-ranging ideas, striving to uncover the facts and challenging status quo thinking that we move forward as a nation. Debate is a good thing! And guess what, no one party or individual has the market cornered on good ideas. Your side won’t always win the argument or election and that is how it should be. And, if you always tow the party line you are an ideologue not a free thinker.
Most of us prefer to occupy the realm of opinions rather than facts – whether we’d like to believe it or not. Instead of taking the time to actually prove something or find out the truth, it is much easier to form an opinion based on personal experience, values, attitude, hearsay, etc. This is especially true in our media where people with strong opinions (often with minimal or no grounding in the facts) dominate the airwaves. We’ve become a society dedicated to the easy answer and convenience in all things. It is certainly much easier and self-satisfying (we think) to find someone who represents our own point of view rather than pushes us to grow and challenge this perspective.
Everyone is too quick to jump on the popular opinion bandwagon these days. Instead of taking the time to understand the facts and make an educated decision about something, it is much easier for most people to just go along with the crowd and follow whatever the media or their particular brand of talking heads tells them to think. Just because something or someone resonates with you doesn’t mean this is an accurate reflection of reality.
Disagreement is a fact of life. It is next to impossible to imagine that you will see “eye to eye” with someone else on every single issue. We all see the world with a slightly different perspective. What matters is how you navigate these disagreements. Do you take different opinions as a personal affront? Are you cordial to the other person who sees things differently? How important is it for you to be perceived as always having the right answer (and at what cost)? How open are you to different interpretations of the same set of facts? Are you willing to learn from your mistakes and admit when you are wrong?
We all reach a point where we have to make decisions based on imperfect and sometimes even contradictory information. There is no “perfect” decision. Whether it is who we hire, when we enter new markets, how much to invest in new products and technologies, when to expand or contract a business relationship, or any other number of issues, leadership ultimately comes down to judgment. In addition, in our personal lives we will all hit crossroads, where the decisions we make will literally have an impact on the rest of our lives. There is always the risk you may make the wrong decision, but you try to mitigate this risk through sound judgment.
Many leaders I know struggle initially with the idea that the most value they bring to their company or organization is their ability to think not act. Of course, thought without action is meaningless. However, the top people in any organization need to regularly step back and reflect on strategic implications, priorities, etc.