The Trouble with Wanting to Be Right
Every leader has blind spots. Those things you don’t see from your perspective, but everyone else does. And like driving a car, it’s the things in your blind spots that can cause big problems.
There’s one that’s common among smart, successful people which has far-reaching consequences in your career, business and relationships.
But first, see if you’ve ever had any of these thoughts:
- I’ve done the research and made up my mind, so there's no need to change it or revisit my assumptions
- I like to be right
- People around me are often wrong
- When someone questions my ideas, it's not only irritating, but I have to defend my position
- I like to win arguments and usually come out ahead in debates
- It's important to have the last word
- Why doesn’t everyone else “get it” that my point of view is the best one, especially after I’ve explained it clearly?
If you’ve had these thoughts, you’re in the good company of many smart, successful people because these are all attributes that can drive you forward in competitive environments.
But you also may have just identified a leadership blind spot that you can address before it holds you back from achieving greater career (and life) success.
Addicted to Being Right
A common blind spot among high achievers, which shows up particularly as you take on leadership roles, is wanting and even needing to be right. It can happen to the best of us.
Being addicted to being right is an easy trap to fall into because getting things right has played a large part in getting you where you are now.
In school, getting the right answers on an exam led to praise and good grades. At work, being right in a meeting leads to greater respect. And society values leaders who are confident, decisive people who “stick to their guns” and (to quote Winston Churchill) “never give in”.
Most of all, winning and being right makes us feel good. As Judith E. Glaser writes in her HBR article, Your Brain Is Hooked on Being Right, “When you argue and win, your brain floods with different hormones: adrenalin and dopamine, which makes you feel good, dominant, even invincible.”
No wonder it’s so easy to be addicted to being right!
But it can come at a cost to your career, relationships and organization as one of my former colleagues discovered.
William’s Painful Lesson
William (not his real name) was one of our smartest, most successful product managers and the market “guru” when it came to a particular family of financing products.
Those of us covering corporate clients were surprised when we heard our clients raving about a new product from a competitor. One that we didn’t have.
When we brought it to William’s attention and asked if he could design our own version, he replied, “We looked at that idea last year and concluded that it made no sense. It’s a dumb idea that will never work.”
No amount of discussion or pleading changed his mind. Someone even diagnosed William as suffering from the “not invented here” syndrome where anything he hadn’t come up with was automatically a bad idea.
Ultimately, he did design our firm’s version of the product, but only after our competitor had completed billions of dollars of transactions.
William’s addiction to being right had cost us revenues and market share and allowed a competitor to make inroads with our clients and prospects. At the same time, he damaged his reputation and relationships with colleagues and senior management.
To William’s credit, he used this painful lesson as a wake-up call to be more open and a better listener. It took a while to recover, but he ultimately became one of our best senior leaders.
Don’t Undermine Yourself
William let his need to be right undermine his credibility, relationships and career, but he didn’t have to. And neither do you.
By putting aside his ego, being able to listen and being open to other ideas, he could have side-stepped this painful lesson.
The same goes for you and me.
The key to avoiding the trap of being addicted to being right is to make the necessary adjustments now. Just think of what you’ll gain by truly listening and being more open to other possibilities, for example:
- Making better decisions and achieving better business outcomes because you’ve truly pressure-tested your assumptions and opened up a broader range of possibilities.
- Enjoying better relationships with (and performance from) people around you because they feel listened to, heard and trusted.
- Developing a better reputation because you don’t come across as argumentative, arrogant and difficult to work with and work for.
What Will You Do?
As human beings, we’re likely to have this “addicted to being right” blind spot in some part of our lives. The question is when and where it shows up for you.
Is it when you’re with family, when you’re the expert, or when you’re with people from a different culture?
Perhaps it’s triggered when you’re tired, hungry or talking about specific topics (politics and religion come to mind)?
The key is to recognize when you’re displaying the less-than-attractive signs of being addicted to being right. Only then can you make a conscious choice about what to do.
So, when are you most likely to fall into the “addicted to being right” trap and how will you keep it from holding you back from your next level of success at work and in life?
Leave me a comment and let me know.