In my twenty plus years of advising leaders, I have noticed the following five benefits of encouraging dissent in your leadership discussions:
Now more than ever, respecting expertise and thinking through our opinions before pushing an agenda may be critical to our short and long-term survival and success. It troubles me greatly when people make blanket statements like, “you can’t trust the media,” or “experts are often wrong, “or “you don’t know who to believe anymore.” This […]
When you lead others, everyone is a critic to some degree. It’s next to impossible to be fully aligned with another person 100% of the time. As a leader, knowing this, you can’t fall into the trap of listening to every dissenting voice. The path to mediocrity is littered with individuals who gave up their leadership power unnecessarily and allowed themselves to be unduly influenced by the opinions of others. This doesn’t mean you avoid soliciting feedback, quite the contrary, but you need to be able to filter this feedback and trust your own judgment. The world looks much different when you are actually accountable for your decisions. It’s easy to be an expert when you don’t have to deal with the consequences of your actions.
In our society that rewards constant action, it is often hard to step back and reflect about where you have been, what you have learned, and where you should be going. However, leadership requires thinking and reflection as much as it is supposed to stimulate action. Many people I know are busy at doing the wrong things. They are working hard but not smart. Every day is just one more attempt to push the boulder up the hill and hope that at some point positive sustained momentum will push them over the top. Unfortunately as the slope of their climb increases the weight of their responsibilities also increases and the path they are treading becomes less predictable and stable. You can’t push forward into unchartered territory and not expect to learn some tough lessons along the way. If you are not careful, you may slip or fall and the boulder will roll right back over you.
Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of my favorite writers. It is hard to box him into any one style because he does it all so flawlessly. While he is sometimes not an easy read, the effort is always worth it. There are nuggets of wisdom embedded throughout his work and the more you read him, the more thoughtful insight you come away with. He has a way of making sense out of life that is hard to match by anyone else. Personally, I recommend everyone keep a copy of his complete essays and reference the individual topics based on their current life situation.
The following quotes are just a very small snippet of his wisdom:
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children…to leave the world a better place…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
“The ancestor of every action is a thought.”
“Thought is action in rehearsal.”
“Life consists in what a man is thinking of all day.”
“There are no days in life so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination.”
“Self-trust is the first secret of success.”
“No one can cheat you out of ultimate success but yourself.”
“He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.”
“Life is a succession of lessons, which must be lived to be understood.”
“Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss.”
“No change of circumstances can repair a defect of character.”
“The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.”
“Often a certain abdication of prudence and foresight is an element of success.”
“Some pursue happiness – others create it.”
“Life is a progress, and not a station.”
“Nothing can bring you happiness but yourself.”
“For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.”
“Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”
“All life is an experiment.”
“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.”
We can’t control what people say or do, but we can control how we respond to it. It’s important to always remember that no one can make you feel anything; you choose to feel that way. It’s amazing how a few unkind words or obvious negative body language can affect us. I’ve seen fairly successful and confident people wilt under the glare of another person’s disapproval. None of us are perfect and we all make mistakes, so only take constructive feedback to the degree that it helps you improve/grow as a person. If the feedback being given isn’t constructive, then learn to simply block it out or ignore it.
We all know the danger of rushing to quick judgments or making false assumptions about things, but we continue to do it anyway. I’ve heard many speakers talk about the reptilian portion of our brain that is focused solely on survival and keeping us out of harms way. In essence, we are hardwired for self-protection. However, in a world where our day to day survival is rarely in question, we need to be careful about allowing the most primal part of our thought process to have too much control. A knee jerk or gut reaction to stimuli is often not a wise strategy and can actually end up being problematic.
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.
What strikes me the most is how many organizations view planning as an event to get through rather than the impetus for an ongoing strategic dialogue that is critical to long term success. When it comes to planning, you are never done, just sharpening your focus and increasing your performance capability as you go along.
When everyone begins to feel or think the same way about something I encourage you to at least consider an alternative point of view.
History books and business journals are full of examples of leaders who ignored reality at great peril and plowed forward with a narrow minded or misinformed agendas doomed to fail.
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.