Leadership Secrets: Stop Worrying About Being Right and Get Curious

We invite you into an ongoing discussion among the Clearwater Consulting Group consultants about what underlies some of the most challenging situations for our clients, for teams, for employees when it comes to interactions. Is it lack of role clarity, lack of inspiring leadership, not appreciating diversity, an overabundance of optimism, growth without guard rails.

What about the overwhelming and often insidious need to be right?

Seriously. Consider the impact when this element appears: it immediately shuts down discussion of novel ideas therefore limiting new product or service development for growth; it establishes a chasm between the two parties, as in I/we are smart/informed, connected/powerful and you/you all are not. It not only drains the room of creativity but establishes camps rather than collaboration. And for the individual-who-must-be-right it completely restricts his or her ability to grow not just in self-awareness, but in information and insight about situations and possibilities.

“Being Right” is a box we all get stuck inside from time to time. Recognize the signals. 

* Responses that begin with “No, what you’re ignoring/missing/not understanding …” (note: the operative red flag is the initial and oft-repeated “No …”)

* Gestures such as rearing back and looking at the other person askance.

* Immediate dismissal with “You’re missing the point!” (As in, you’re missing MY point, you moron)!

* Then there’s the blunt: “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

* Or the email that shouts in ALL CAPS.

Ask yourself this: The last time someone offered an alternative opinion to yours, what was your first reaction? Did you pummel them with data and research and other sources proving your point? Did you get defensive? Did you attack their beliefs and practices? Or, did you disengage from those habitual responses and get curious about the other person’s observation or opinion and ask for more information?

What might happen in our workplace interactions if the need to be perceived as ‘right’ were replaced by the practice of getting curious?

Here’s what it sounds like when we get curious:

* What an interesting observation. I had not thought about it that way. Tell me more.

* What do you suppose led you to that perspective?

* If that is the case, then we really have a lot to explore.

And, by getting curious, we start to disarm those other challenges mentioned at the beginning of the blog: lack of role clarity, lack of leadership or appreciation of diversity. Getting curious is one of the secrets of artful problem solving: 

* Yes, I approached that project as if it were my responsibility alone to tackle. I hear you say you thought it was yours. Let’s talk about where we overlap.

* I’m curious what your vision is for our department. Share that with us so we can see how to help you lead.

* You and I definitely have different perspectives on this topic. I wonder what might be some other points of view we haven’t even considered yet.“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

1. You don’t Always have to have the answer

On the one hand, you might say, whew! What a relief! But this gets tricky. You were hired or groomed to be the expert. You believe you have to be right in order to maintain your status. And, face it; there is some ego appeal to being acknowledged as “The One With The Answers”. Plus it proves you are valuable to the organization. So there are many conscious and not so conscious reasons why we cling to our expertise. Let’s normalize this – it’s a box we can all draw around ourselves.  

2. Explore an alternative view; look at the Situational Leadership models

The one we use is by John Beck – in which managers are invited to self-assess their natural tendency to (1) direct others (tell them what to do), (2) to delegate to others (hand off), (3) problem solve with others, (4) coach/support others to find the answers. Once you learn your natural tendency and become versed in recognizing when a different form of interaction may be more appropriate, depending upon the skill and will of the employee you are managing, then the goal is to adapt.

Ask a trusted advisor or colleague what they observe your management style to be most of the time. We get so blindsided by our heads-down march to productivity, we may fail to notice we have become a one track manager.”The truth will set you free – but first it may thoroughly irritate you.” Susan Scott

Hold that mirror up and ask yourself what you’re tripping over on your rush to rightness. 

Get Curious about Yourself

Self-awareness is the ground work for effective managers and great leaders.

1. Start listening to your first reactions when others disagree with you. What’s your habitual response? Do you go into attack mode, silent mode…or do you get curious? 

2. What beliefs are you carting into work that drive your responses? Ask yourself: What am I defending? 

3. Explore your situational leadership tendencies – how adept are you at shifting from being The Boss (directive), to engaging as a Collaborator (Problem Solving), or Coach (Asking great questions)?

Finally, maybe the question isn’t, why do we need to be right. Maybe the question is why are we afraid of being wrong? Kathryn Schulz reminds us in her TED talk of a quote by St Augustine said “I err therefore I am.”