A recent “nudge” from the leadership guru David Marquet asked that question and, as usual, he made me stop and think. Are you sure? On the surface, it’s a simple question.
Generally, I move through my world fairly confidently, sure of what I’m doing — not always, of course, but for the most part. I suspect most of us do, and if we stop to think deeply and question everything we decide to do we would soon become ineffective. The point of David’s question for me is to discover if I’m sure because of experience, research and/or facts–or simply because I’m on autopilot and haven’t really thought about my beliefs and resulting actions.
What gives me confidence? Partly ignorance, I’m sure. What I don’t know is forever hidden from me — until it’s not, and then it’s generally too late. As a leader, though, it certainly would be a good thing to have thought through the more basic beliefs upon which I base decisions and actions. I went through that exercise in quite a bit of detail. Still, it’s good to revisit things and make sure my beliefs are still supported by the “reality” around me.
Another reason I am generally confident, is that I enjoy doing at least some research on topics, purchases, hypotheses and assumptions. So I usually have enough information to make me realize that I don’t really know all that I would like to about a particular subject. And so while I may still act with confidence, I know better than to think I’m “right.” It’s just that given what I do know about the task at hand, I am willing to make a decision and then move forward.
How do you encourage others to explore their beliefs and reasons for being sure? As David points out, in our country to ask someone directly, “Are you sure?” is generally going to make them defensive. It’s a challenge. Perhaps we can be less direct with questions such as “What do you see that allows you draw that conclusion?” Or “That’s interesting. Share with me how you arrived at that decision.” Or even simply, “How sure are you?” These questions might allow room for the person to examine what they intend to do without it being a direct challenge. They may decide they need more research before proceeding. They might even convince you that they have sound reasons to be sure of their intentions.