What's the Cost of Being Right?May 09, 2023
The other day I was working with my executive coach on a leadership challenge. Yes, even so-called leadership experts sometimes need coaching. I was explaining my situation with passion, zeal and a lot of emotional energy. I had drawn a line in the sand and was fighting an issue because of the principles. I knew I was clearly in the right (at least in my mind) and could not let it go. My executive coach asked me a simple, yet powerful question:
What does it cost you to be right?
Woah. That hit me right between the eyes. I stepped back and took a moment to reflect. By me pushing this issue, what did I have to gain? What did I have to lose? The answers were worth considering. I stood to lose the relationship between me and the employee. My team would likely perceive an erosion of trust and transparency. I could foresee a change in our culture of challenging the status quo. Most importantly, when a leader directly calls out an individual in that initially emotional state, it can create an environment of fear, hinder creativity and innovation, and damage relationships within the team. All I had to truly gain was an ‘I told you so’ moment. The equation just didn’t seem to balance itself out. It just wasn’t worth it to be right.
A recent study found that 75% of employees are more likely to speak up if they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas with their team members. However, when leaders are positioned as always right, team members may be hesitant to voice their opinions, leading to a lack of creativity and innovation within the team. This can ultimately hinder the team's ability to come up with new and effective solutions to problems.
How many times as leaders do we need to mindfully pick our battles? I urge you to pause and consider what conflicts to take on that really truly require our emotional capital. Acknowledge which ones aren’t worth the investment of time, resources and energy.
There are certain issues which clearly must be challenged based on organizational principles and values. Leaders obviously can’t concede every time, and holding the line is part of the role.
My challenge to you is to discern between personal pride and organizational principles and values.
In this recent challenge, I couldn’t help but feel disrespected. My back was up, and I admit that I got defensive. I felt entitled to assert myself. ‘I’m the leader. I’m the boss.’ Remember, that is a personal trigger.
In this instance, holding my tongue and allowing the team member to have the floor and take some space created no harm to the organizational structure. I needed to let go of my own ego and pride here. No one is perfect, and there is always room for improvement. It’s often worth it to allow others’ ideas to be played out, at least to some time or budgetary limits. Some of the most valuable lessons just need to be learned through experience and with time. Once in a while I might even find my way wasn’t the only path to the goal and learn a new trick.
When leaders can let going of being right, they help build trust and respect within the team and take giant steps towards building a high-performance culture.