I like being right. I’ve always liked being right. In school I prided myself on reading all the books. I was the kid who kept asking teachers questions while everyone else wanted to go to recess.
It feels good to be “right.” It’s reassuring and self-validating. It can also isolate us from other people. It’s a temptation which leads to limitation. If we’re always focused on what we know, we miss what we can learn.
Eventually I realized that a good question is worth far more than a good answer.
Always Knowing or Always Learning?
Brené Brown addresses this in her book “Dare to Lead”. She suggests that daring leaders are more interested in getting it right than being right.
“Having to be “the ‘knower’ or always being right is heavy armor. It’s defensiveness, it’s posturing, and worst of all, it’s a huge driver of bullshit. It’s also very common – most of us have some degree of knower in us…it leads to distrust, bad decisions, unnecessary rumbles, and unproductive conflict.”
So how do we avoid this trap?
Brown calls us to “transform always knowing into always learning.”
She recommends three steps:
- Name the issue by participating in clear, if not tough, conversations.
- Make curiosity a priority
- Acknowledge and reward asking great questions as a daring leadership behavior
Ask Good Questions and Listen
So how does this apply to George Floyd?
For me it means that I still do not know the answers but if I listen, I may better understand the problem.
I still do not understand the experience of African Americans. Or those who feel marginalized every day. Or police officers. I could focus on sharing my experience and perspective but what would that teach me?
So, I’m going to listen more. I’m going to ask questions when I don’t understand, even if that means I risk looking foolish when I do so.
And I hope you do the same. There is so much we don’t understand about each other’s experiences. There is so much pain and anger in the world that it’s easy to feel powerless in the face of it.
I encourage you to follow Dr. Brown’s advice. Instead of focusing on what you know, focus on what you can learn. How can you understand someone else’s perspective? What are the questions you need answered, not as an interrogation, but as a path to understanding? What do you need to do to really listen to those responses?
It Is OK to Be Afraid
For some of us its natural to worry about saying the wrong thing in these situations. I felt fear writing this and even more than a little fear sharing it with you. It is easy to focus on that fear of being wrong.
Push past that. As Dr. Brown says it is more important to be always learning than always knowing. The search for understanding is a journey, not a destination, and there will be bumps along the way. You will get some things wrong and that is OK.
Because in the end, we do not have to be right – but we can get it right.
About the author:
Mitch Isaacs was named Shafer Leadership Academy’s Executive Director in May 2015. In this role, he works closely with the organization’s board of directors to fulfill the mission of the organization. He is responsible for creating vision, connecting with stakeholders, administering program offerings and leading the organization in meaningful ways.