Leadership is knowing when you're wrong

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 28, 2017, 6:45 PM | comments: 0

I've written more than once about how I strongly believe that humility is a treasured quality in leadership, and indeed in life. Another important leadership quality is knowing when you're wrong. I suppose that one is even harder, because getting things wrong generally doesn't feel good.

This is a lesson that I'm still learning, because I grew up in a somewhat toxic environment where I wasn't allowed to be right about anything. In that sense, I feel like I've come full circle. I'm wrong about a lot of things, a lot of the time, and professionally, it's one of the reasons I do my best to surround myself with really smart people. If I can't be right all of the time, at least I can be right about hiring people who can correct my mistakes! It's the first thing that I can be confident about being right most of the time.

Politicians are obsessed with being right. If they're not right, that means that they're wrong, and that's perceived as a weakness by those that oppose them. And since people treat politics like a sports rivalry, they pile on, shout, "Go team!" and align themselves with one party and against another. There is a seriously damaging side effect of all this: Being wrong doesn't mean taking corrective action to these folks, it means doubling down and sticking to the wrong thing. Can you imagine doing that in your professional or personal life? It wouldn't get you anywhere.

One of my professional heroes, Matt Ouimet, the CEO of Cedar Fair, told a great story at the IAAPA trade show and conference a few years ago. When he took over the Disneyland Resort, he was doing a walk around the park with his staff, when he noticed a churro cart in front of the castle. He thought it seemed like a bad idea to have the cart there, in a place where thousands of people would take pictures, so he asked someone to make a note about moving it. Not long after that, a middle-manager asked to talk to him about the desire to move the cart, and he explained why he wanted it moved. She explained that it sold hundreds of units every day, worth a million dollars annually. They tried moving the cart off to the side and it made a fraction of the current sales. Needless to say, he was wrong, and the cart stayed put. As he put it, it's important to listen, and accept being wrong.

Leadership certainly requires vision and a stomach for risk, but when you're wrong, you're wrong. It's OK to be wrong. Suck it up, admit it, and do the right thing.


Post your comment: