The challenge of being challenged

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 16, 2018, 11:04 PM | comments: 0

Tonight I met a friend and his wife for dinner after talking a bit at the speaker party for an event we're both speaking at tomorrow. I'm still struck by the fact that there are so many people I connect with at best once a year and we can talk for hours. In any case, they're going to be parents soon, and we talked about how that can change things. He's originally Canadian, so his take on American politics are interesting. We also swap stories about running software development shops. With all of these things, I'm struck by one thing that we kept coming back to: It's hard to willingly be challenged by others in a healthy way.

In charting our career growth, we acknowledge that a lot of it comes in the ability to raise others (which not surprisingly is why we speak at tech conferences). Where that becomes tricky is the desire to leverage the knowledge we have, but know when it's OK to be challenged. While this in part comes back to my general theme of leadership with humility, leaving yourself open to challenge is really, really hard. I'm sure it's even harder for people who have more Type-A tendencies.

If wisdom should bring you anything, it's the idea that you rarely have all of the answers. But no matter how hard we try, human beings still have pride, and it's a natural defense mechanism to create a blockade against things that may force you to reconsider your position on virtually anything. I mean, how else can you explain the extreme partisanship that people engage in?

As a manager, I struggle with this every day. Sometimes I do have the right answers, backed by experience. Other times, not so much, and it's not always easy to know which bucket I'm falling into. But it's also hard when you consider any political or social issue. And if that weren't bad enough, our culture now considers the ability to change your mind as a weakness.

I can't solve the cultural issue, but I can do right by the people I interact with and be the guy who listens and allows others to challenge what I think. It doesn't mean I will, or am obligated, to change my mind, but being inflexible and convinced that I have all the answers is a life-limiting endeavor.


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