Being Wrong for Leaders

February 24, 2018

I love being wrong. It’s one of the best things to be. Being wrong generally means that you’re learning, assuming you accept your wrongness and are working to get out from under it.

So to say that more precisely: being wrong is great if you’re actively trying not to be wrong. Being wrong is horrible if you’re wallowing in it.

Being wrong is even more important for leaders. When you’re a leader, it means people are listening to you. A lot of the time, people will listen to a leader even when the leader is wrong.

We can generalize the reasons why people listen to the following:

  1. There’s some reason - cultural, external, or internal - that they can’t speak up.
  2. They’re not intelligent or knowledgable enough on the given subject to counteract or change the leader’s course.
  3. The leader is actually right.

When dealing with complex problems like politics, engineering, big organizations or companies, architecture, etc., it’s sometimes hard to know which of the three it is. A good leader wants it to be #3 all the time.

Being wrong is the feedback loop that allows us to get to #3 as often as possible. If people disagree with you and point out your wrongness, it means that #1 isn’t a thing. If they speak up and have a better idea than you or prove you are wrong, it means that #2 isn’t true.

Finally, nobody is right all the time when dealing with highly complex systems. It’s just impossible. So being wrong and learning it from others should give you confidence that #3 is actually real sometimes. People aren’t just following because they have to, and they’ll point it out if you’re wrong. So when they nod and agree and say “let’s do it!”, you should have some confidence that it’s a good course of action.

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