There is a trap that leaders should work to avoid. Yet ironically, it is a trap that ensnares many a leader and one that they enter into willingly.
It is the trap of being right.
Being right? Isn’t that what good leaders do – get things right? Well, yes and no.
Getting more things right than wrong is obviously a good thing and something that anyone in leadership would strive to achieve. However, this isn’t the same as being right all the time. The problem is that many in leadership believe that their perspective, their experience, their solution is the right one. When this is the over-riding approach it means that other options automatically are relegated and subjugated to the leader’s ‘right’.
When leaders are ‘right’ (all the time) it usually means that an autocratic, command and control leadership culture prevails. It quickly becomes a toxic context in which others don’t speak up and one in which participative decision-making and innovative solutions are suffocated. Right means that there can be no room for other considerations; right means that there is no room for discussion and debate; right means that we stop looking around and focus only on what we are told is in front of us and apply only what has been determined.
This is not the context of collaborative and participative environments. Leaders who insist on their ‘right’ usually means that the benefits delivered by diversity get ignored as the wisdom of ‘the many’ is sacrificed for the wisdom of ‘the one’.
There can be no discussion with anyone who believes that they are right. Any discussion is really nothing other than an arm-wrestle around ‘right-wrong’ rather than an authentic exploration to find a new perspective and embrace new learning. There is a Sufi saying that says, ‘beyond the field of right and wrong is a place; I’ll meet you there’. Anyone who has had the misfortune to engage in a ‘discussion’ with a fundamentalist (of any persuasion) will know immediately the futility of a ‘discussion’. The Fundamentalist believes that they are right. They refuse to – or are unable to, put aside ‘their rightness’ to create room for meaningful engagement. Such conversations quickly degenerate into angry exchanges and invariably damaged relationships.
I think that ‘rightness’ can inflict some more so than others based on how people think. The Enneagram teaches that there are people for whom ‘right and wrong’ defines their approach and shapes their worldview. Such a person has a far longer road to travel when it comes to meeting at that ‘place’ that the Sufi saying speaks about – the place that sits beyond the field of right and wrong. For others, those who are able to entertain paradox and who are comfortable negotiating the ‘grey’ of life, access to that ‘place’ is far easier.
Leaders need to see how their ‘right’ inhibits free discussion and stunts dialogue. Smart leaders know how and when to suspend their ‘right’ in order to allow a ‘better way’ to emerge. Leaders who remain unaware of how limiting and overbearing their right has become are a danger to the organisation and those they lead.
Am I suggesting then that there is no ‘right’?
Of course not.
In various scenarios there is a strategic right, a moral right an obvious right – it is just the mind-set involved that will determine how others are allowed to influence, persuade, contribute and challenge. I am sure, like me, you know people who are ‘always right’. People who are certain about so many things – things that any thinking person would immediately recognise as having an antithesis, a counter-point, an opposite.
Beware of your right. As a leader catch yourself in discussions where you hear yourself proclaim the right; be mindful of thinking habits which revolve around ‘right and wrong’ and be willing to explore further, to venture beyond – in order to find ‘that place’. As a leader help others find that place beyond right and wrong. As you do so, know that it will significantly contribute to an organisational culture in which opinions are respected, learning is prized and participation leads to both accountability and an ‘ownership’ for realizing the desired objectives.
Being right is a trap, but it need not be. Whether or not it is a trap, well… that will be up to you.