Healthy Idea Competition is Good

Fight As If You Are Right

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

Karl Weick, professor at the University of Michigan, states that you should “Fight as if you are right; listen as if you are wrong.” This sound advice was picked up and passed along by Bob Sutton in his book The No Asshole Rule. What I like about the quote is the “as if” phrase. If we always keep that little phrase in mind we will neither be overly confident of our position nor too easily cede our position to other views.

This is a great balance between being obstinate and taking up a position or goal and driving the organization to achieve it. In the end, that’s what leadership is about. We cannot, on the one hand, allow ourselves or other people to bully our employees or on the other hand, create an organization that has no competition among good ideas. Healthy conflict is a requirement for continuous improvement. The key is to foster the value of inherent worth and dignity of each person. We can disagree and champion conflicting ideas as long as it does not become a personal attack. And, if we add to that the concept that I will listen as if I am wrong, we should naturally fall into a healthy exchange of thoughts and ideas instead of competition to have “my idea win.”

In my work with organizations from small private companies to large Universities, I have found that we often have unhealthy competition. Personal attacks are allowed and unfortunately, in some cases, even encouraged. As in so many leadership challenges, leaders must set the example by actions not simply by words. As a business owner and/or executive, how do you engage with your leadership team? Do you allow personal attacks, petty political intrigues and “jerk” superstars to stay? Or do you have a fully enforced “No Asshole Rule” in your organization? Do you listen “as if” you are wrong? Do you insist that your team listen that way?