For leaders, an excess of self-confidence is something of an occupational hazard. Of course, we all prefer to be right about the decisions and judgments we make. But any leader who feels the need to be right all the time is making a grave mistake.
What we as leaders really need to do is create a system that gets things right most of the time--work that begins with surrounding ourselves with talented people who can keep the business pointed in the right direction.
Kim Scott illustrates this important distinctionin her best-selling book Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. Scott says she was having a conversation about Steve Jobs with Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, and Grove remarked, "F-ing Steve always gets it right."
Scott replied, "Nobody's always right." But then Grove clarified: "I didn't say Steve is always right. I said he always gets it right. Like anyone, he is wrong all the time, but he insists--and not gently, either--that people tell him when he's wrong. So, he always gets it right in the end."
The best leaders want to be challenged and proved wrong by others, because that ensures that the best ideas will rise to the surface. Ray Dalio, author of Principles: Life and Work, refers to this concept as an "idea meritocracy." Organizations that recognize that the best ideas can originate from anywhere and anyone--regardless of role or position--empower people to challenge leadership and bring their best ideas to the table.
This is something that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos appears to know intrinsically. In an interview with CNBC, Bezos remarked that he is much less interested in promoting people who are smart than he is about filling his organization with people who are right most of the time. "I don't care how smart they are," he said. "I want to see a track record of hard decisions that ended up being right."
In other words, Bezos gives leadership opportunities to those with a track record of delivering the best results--even when the right move challenges Bezos's own point of view. Like Jobs, what is most important to Bezos is not that he be right, but that his team gets to the right answers.
These are two of the greatest business leaders of our generation, and both check their egos at the door. It's hard to argue with their results. Here are a few ways to follow their lead.
Highlight Other People's Ideas
If you only let your team choose from among ideas you came up with yourself, you'll never know what new solutions you're missing. Instead, ask opened-ended questions such as "How else could we do this?" and see what people say. Keep the momentum going by giving due credit to team members who have identified solutions to problems.
Learn to Speak Last
It's amazing what you can learn when you take the time to sit back and listen. Given space, people tend to open up and share their thoughts--which is the ideal environment for brainstorming. Organizational consultant Simon Sinek talks about this a lot. As a leader, you can benefit by speaking last. Let your team members have the stage first and see what happens.
Let Others Challenge You Publicly
Make it safe for people to challenge you in a meeting. Bosses can be intimidating--even when they don't mean to be--so don't bristle or get combative when someone presents a different point of view. Instead, accept good ideas and bad ideas as equally valid contributions to the process, and be sure to thank people for their candor.
Reward Outcomes Over Hard Work
Too many companies today still value hard work and inputs over outcomes. Don't reward someone just for spending a lot of time on something. Instead, recognize those who produce results efficiently.
The bottom line is that we as leaders have to do the tough work of admitting we can be wrong. Deep down, we all want to be right because it's validating and makes us feel smart. But ego-driven thinking is the surest path to suboptimal outcomes and even the repression of new ideas. As St. Augustine said, "Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it."
Since two of the smartest, most strategic leaders in the past 100 years were happy to be proved wrong, I think we all need to ask ourselves--in both our personal and professional lives: Do I want to be right? Or do I want to get it right?