Here’s why every great leader needs a devils advocate…

Once again, I’ve written another post to share a leadership strategy that directly contradicts some of our most common leadership instincts.  As leaders, there are so many decisions that we are forced to make and our instincts often lead us to surrounding ourselves with like-minded people who support those decisions.  Those same instincts lead us to keeping the people who contradict how we think at arms length away and while this might make life easier in the short term,  it’s often counterproductive and self-destructive for us as leaders in the long run.  Here’s why…

First, let’s acknowledge that as leaders, there’s a lot of pressure to “be right”.  The consequences of being “wrong” can be catastrophic.  For a coach, that choice may decide whether your team wins or loses.  Calling the wrong play on fourth and goal during the Super Bowl (Pete Carrol) can change the lives of your players forever.  For a CEO, your “wrong choice” may steer your company from a long and prosperous future down the road to bankruptcy.

And for every day leaders like most of us (parents, supervisors, team leaders, managers, etc), the choices we make directly impact the lives of those we lead and our reputation as the leader, so making the wrong choices can produce very damaging consequences.

This is why when leaders are faced with a difficult choice to make, our instincts lead us to seek out people and information that support and confirm that the decision that we want to make, is the right one.  With so much pressure to be right, we often look for someone else to confirm we are doing the right thing or making the right choice and sometimes, we do this without even noticing.

However, this is major catalyst for catastrophe.  What could possibly go wrong by not acknowledging the possibility of being wrong or by only identifying the positive consequences of a choice we make while we continue to neglect the negative ones?  If we fail to acknowledge the presence of contradicting perspectives or information, does this somehow guarantee a better outcome?

Let’s look at a simple example…

Who’s heard of confirmation bias?  You know, that concept where we seek out people and information that support the beliefs we already had?  A good example would be if you were leaning towards buying a Tesla but you decided to ask your friend (who owns a Tesla) if he thought it was a good purchase…

I wonder what he might say…

Not a very objective opinion, right?

Or while researching whether or not you should buy a new Tesla, you only read articles about how great the car is but fail to read or acknowledge the negative reviews…

All that we have done to this point is support the decisions we already planned to make which in turn, makes it less likely that we will change our mind down the road.

Does it mean that we made the “right choice” just because others supported the decision that we wanted to make?  No, of course not.  If we want to make the best possible decisions then we need objective information.

We can do this by exploring both supporting & contradicting views, perspectives and opinions about the ideas or decisions that we are faced with.  Reading the negative reviews of the Tesla would be just as important (if not more important) than reading the positive ones to make sure we are making a well-rounded and well-informed decision.

This is why leader’s need to surround themselves with people who aren’t afraid to share their opinions with us, especially if those thoughts and opinions contradict our own. Here’s where keeping our devil’s advocate close comes in handy.

What’s a devil’s advocate you may ask?  You know, that person who always thinks in terms of “what if things go wrong”?  Essentially, the devil’s advocates in our lives are those whom you bring an idea to who says, “Well what if the exact opposite happens?” Or “Yea but what if everything goes wrong?”

Most leaders avoid these people because the decisions that we make are difficult enough already without someone filling our head with negative “what ifs”…

But those extreme contradictions to our thought process are invaluable because it forces us to change our perspective and consider the alternative.  Sure, life would be much easier if things just always went out way and we made one “right” choice after the other but we all know that just isn’t how life goes…

Start consulting with the devil’s advocates in your lives before you make important decisions and watch what happens.  This isn’t to say you must embrace a negative mindset and always be exploring thoughts like “what if things go wrong?”  But by consulting with those people in our lives who do think this way, we expand our perspective and force ourselves to stay objective.

As leaders, our only hope of making the best decisions possible is by accessing objective information so we can explore all possible outcomes and sometimes, the devil’s advocates in our lives are the only ones confident enough to share with us those options and outcomes that are difficult to accept.

Please don’t forget to like and share this post and let me hear your comments down below!

 

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