I was watching the evening news with my husband and he asked me to change the channel so he could watch the national, rather than the provincial, news. I said, “This is the National News”.
He said, “No it isn’t. Lloyd Robertson is on the national news and I prefer listening to him over the other guy on channel three”
I said, “ Well, this is Lloyd Robertson’s program.
He said, “ No it isn’t but if you think so, you must be right”
Suffice it to say, after a few more seconds of an “It is so! It is not!” kind of exchange, I discovered I was wrong, but not before I had dug in my heels and clung to my view of things until it sounded somewhat reminiscent of this:
Of course our “discussion” was not quite as strident as the one portrayed, but the point is, I believed I was right and clung to that belief as if it were a baby cub and I, a mother lion. Luckily, this kind of intractability does not happen in our house too often, but when it does, everything seems to shut down until we discover where the error in thinking lies. And, until a correction, and an apology, is made.
Stubbornness is an insidious thing. It can creep up on you and before you know it there is an enormous barrier between you and another person, or you and a bunch of other persons. In leadership, it is also a destructive thing that closes the door on creativity and serves to frustrate and exclude people whose potential contribution is often ignored or discounted.
Let’s face it; we all like to be right. If it were possible, we would all like to be right all of the time…but it’s not.
So, what to do? Well, a good place to start is by looking in the mirror. All of us are stubborn at some time or another. It’s not that rare. But, here’s the thing. If we are leaders of people we cannot afford to luxuriate in the illusion that we are always right. Getting married to our own ideas to the exclusion of others is an appalling waste of everyone’s time and talent. And really, failing to tame the inner mule comes with the high cost of lost opportunity and damaged relationships, which could be more than we are willing to pay.
So on those occasions when we notice ourselves digging in for a session of “Yes, it is. No it’s not” Let’s do three things. Stop…even if it is in mid-sentence. Step Back…create some space in the dialogue long enough to take a breath. And Listen…focus on really understanding what is being said and pretend, for a moment that the other person actually might know what s/he is talking about.
By doing things as simple as that, our chances of discovering a plethora of useful and creative perspectives that will serve the collective purpose will be that much greater.
What do you think? When was the last time you dug in your heels and started braying? What was the result? How can leaders keep their inner mules from getting in their way?