Boss listening to employee

Be open to the possibility you're wrong

A leadership conundrum many face

Written by Dr Shaun Ridley FAIM
2 minute read
Boss listening to employee

As a society, we admire strength. In particular, we admire strong, focused decision-makers who get things done.

Even some of our language signals how much we like people who “have the courage of their convictions”, “are unwavering in their commitment”, “are experts at project execution”, “drive change relentlessly”, or “who never take no for an answer”.

We are right to acknowledge and support leaders who are able to take an idea or initiative and implement tangible changes in the workplace.

However, this strength has a severe downside because it assumes the leader is correct; they are doing the right thing at the right time.

And because we admire strength so much, it is very difficult for the leader to hear a counter view, that perhaps the current approach that is being driven ruthlessly, is wrong.

Inversely, leaders implementing change who are open to alternatives, good listeners and flexible are often seen as weak.

They are seen as a soft-touch, easily knocked off their tracks and vulnerable to delays or procrastination.

This is a classic leadership conundrum.

On the one hand, you want to be seen as determined to implement change, and on the other, to be seen as open to alternative ways to achieve the same or better outcome.

Despite the seemingly contradictory nature of these two options, finding the balance is essential.

Having an unwavering drive to implement a particular dogma makes us blind to other possibilities. Allowing lengthy delays to consult more and more will grind your project to a halt.

A practical way to address this conundrum with your team is to name it.

Share your preferred course of action and highlight your determination. Then provide enough time for people to offer suggestions and alternatives.

Be genuinely open to exploring the implications of these alternatives. By building these consultation sessions into your implementation plan you can lessen the risk that they will blow out your timeline.

One more small step in the next 24 hours

Avoid being a leader who lacks doubt. Always be open to the possibility that you are wrong. This will keep your radar on alert for things that may de-rail your implementation plans.

At the next project meeting, share this conundrum with the group. Once it is exposed, it will be harder for both sides to ignore the need to explore options and get the project done on time, on budget and on spec.