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The Value of Being Wrong

Jan 29, 2020 5:25:09 PM / by Tim McCarthy

Were you brought up in a similar manner to me? 

  • Most academics were based on right or wrong 
  • You won or lost sporting events and academic contests 
  • My teachers, coaches and parents focused on relating (their view of) what I did right and wrong 
  • My spiritual upbringing focused mostly on guilt for whatever I’d done wrong 

An elegant businessman standing with his back in front of urban wall full of arrows pointing in different directions concept

On entering the working world, my superiors constantly harped on the importance of being right.  One boss even suggested that I should only ask a question for which I already knew the answer.   

And our legal system has become fixed on someone must pay for every wrong, real or perceived. 

No wonder it’s taking me a lifetime to get over my compulsive need to be right! 

Should professionals in medicine, aviation and construction have a zero-defects approach?  Sure, but all other organizations great leaders see value in being wrong.  The best leaders set organizational goals and measurements/boundaries, then let their team search for right together – even when they already know the answer.  

I’ve found being wrong also takes the pressure off me.  More importantly, members of our team who learn it’s okay to be wrong, work harder and approach problem solving more creatively.  Learning together by trial, error and correction makes organizations go further, for far longer.  And once I get my ego out of the way, I find greater satisfaction in team-rightness than me-rightness. 

If I need to be right, then those I lead can’t grow with me.  Good teachers teach, great teachers inspire. Poor leaders need to be right, and therefore breed only followers.  Only the meek and the lazy like working for self-described genius.   

The best of the best like working for someone who will set fences around organizational goals and let them run.   

Finally, there is a personal side to this reflection.  The very title of father invites righteousness.  My childhood featured a father who was a righteous man and popular TV show“Father Knows Best”. 

While I don’t believe I was a tyrant (you’d have to ask them), I certainly was firm and can even remember saying to my children: “because I said so”.   

Now I sit in wonder as my kids listen and work through their children’s arguments about right and wrong.  They let their children learn by being wrong within safe boundaries with far more patience than I recall having (probably because I didn’t) 

They seem to value their children learning right versus their own righteousness. Their method takes a lot longer, but it will surely stay with their kids longer. 

Just like in business and organizations, I’m learning the value of being wrong – growth. 

 

Peace. 

Tim McCarthy  

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Tim McCarthy

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