In his forbes.com article entitled “10 Leadership Lessons from the IBM Executive School,” author August Turak refers to a highly successful executive he knows who offers cash rewards to anyone in his company who can prove him wrong.
That’s one brave executive.
Facing the facts isn’t easy, especially when the truth is that you were wrong. A computer programmer friend of mine once made a programming error that erased critical data in a live system. Once she realised what she had done, she went to the meeting room where her boss was, sheepishly knocked on the door, and told her boss what had happened. After the problem was resolved, my friend watched her boss walk towards her desk and she expected the worst.
After all, she had caused a team of people to spend hours resolving the error she had made. She was in shock when her boss congratulated her for owning up to the error straightaway. He revealed to her that he had fired someone only a few short months before who had made a similar error and had hidden it for as long as he could, and then made every excuse when he was found out.
If you want your teams to own up to their mistakes, then you as a leader must own up to yours. What the cash reward-paying executive did for his staff was make it ok to be wrong, and so he built an environment of openness and trust, rather than fear and secrecy.
Leaders who have to be right cannot be successful. When you make it about you being right or wrong, then you lose perspective on the problem and make poor decisions. You stop listening to the facts that are presented to you by your team members. And it doesn’t take long before your team stop bothering to update you when something that was your idea is not working.
As a leader, you must be open to hear the things you don’t want to hear. Start cultivating the awareness of what goes on for you when you find out you are wrong, whether at work or outside of work. Do you get that gut-wrenching feeling and start to berate yourself? Do you get angry with the messenger of truth and vehemently defend your view? Do you metaphorically run away by refusing to discuss the issue? These are all signs that you are attached to being right.
The best thing you can do when someone suggests you are wrong is to pause. Say nothing. Do nothing. Breathe. Then, when you feel calm, say these three words: “Tell me more.”
You don’t have to offer cash incentives to your staff to get the truth from them. But you do need to let go of the need to be right, if you are to fully step into your ability to build the loyalty and trust of your team.