“Faced with a choice between changing one’s mind and proving there is no need to do so, most everybody gets busy on the proof.” -John Kenneth Galbraith
I love this quote, because it’s spot on. We would rather spend hours defending our position than entertain the possibility of viewing things another way. Why is this? I think there are a couple of things going on. One piece has to do with the fact that people will only change when the pain of changing is less than the pain of staying the same. The other piece, which is particularly relevant to leaders, is the fear that if they change their minds, it implies they weren’t right in the first place and being wrong is often seen as a sign of weakness. No leader wants to appear to be weak.
Leaders are often put in positions where they have to make a choice between being partially right and most definitely wrong. To avoid the “wrong” they often punt the ball and make no choice, or go about finding proof that they are right and don’t need to change. But as I discussed last week, to be “right” automatically makes someone else wrong and that’s not helpful when you are leading a team. So let’s get rid of the right/wrong conversation and change the question to “what’s best for the situation?”
If you are afraid to be wrong it will almost ensure that you are not making the best decisions. So what does a leader do? They make the best judgment call they can given the facts available at the time, and are willing to course correct when it appears that whatever they decided is not working. The best mentors I’ve had were always ready, willing, and able to make a change whenever they felt the outcome was not working out as they wanted. No harm, no foul, just own it and move on to the next plan. Real success can only be built on failure because that is where you’ll find the most “data” and learning. Build your ability to accept being wrong and you’ll end up making much better decisions in the long run.
I think another reason why some leaders and politicians are so loath to change their minds is that they themselves become so closely identified with what they’ve declared, decided or said. It’s as if they’ve just written the declaration of independence or something equally as substantial – that what they’ve said or decided makes them who they are. It doesn’t. It’s just a statement, belief or opinion and there are plenty of others to counter it.
Humility is one of the qualities of great leaders according to Jim Collins of Good to Great fame. It enables them to make better decisions because their “ego” is not attached to outcomes. So, just for today, detach from the fear about decisions, be willing to change your mind, and know that each decision you make will get you closer to success, (even if a particular decision led to a failure). Remember my previous blog – Fail Fast and have some fun!
photo credit: bitznbitez ( was lucias_clay ) via photopin cc