Welcome Being Challenged

“We are all learning, modifying, or destroying ideas all the time. Rapid destruction of your ideas when the time is right is one of the most valuable qualities you can acquire. You must force yourself to consider arguments on the other side.” Charlie Munger

As I watch what’s going on in politics and in many businesses, I often reflect on this wisdom.  Wisdom that has enabled Charlie Munger and his long-time partner Warren Buffet to become widely respected billionaires.

I reflect particularly on how so many in leadership positions completely disregard this wisdom. They seem to think that by virtue of their standing, they have become the holder of absolute truths, that by saying something is true, it is true and woe to the person who challenges this truth. They have no time to listen to, much less consider arguments from the other side.

Yet, like all of us, these leaders are bombarded daily by mountains of information about changes going on in the world, information that should force them to consider how their knowledge, their views of things and their ways of doing things may be obsolete. There is way too much information for anyone to be the expert in all of it. That’s why we all need to be challenged by those who possess expertise in one thing or another. And when challenged listen well to the arguments and fully consider them rather than dismiss them without consideration while keeping your ideas inviolate.

It is in times of adversity in both businesses and public affairs that listening to others becomes most crucial. As Nelson Mandela said: “One effect of sustained conflict is to narrow our vision of what is possible. Time and again conflicts are resolved through shifts that were unimaginable at the start.”

Instead of using disagreement and conflict as a useful start towards creative new ideas and solutions, closed-minded leaders rest on their delusions of grandeur, unable to accept that they’re not the smartest person in the room.

Heidi Roizen, operating partner of the VC firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, says about such  leaders: “If you want to be the smartest person in the room about everything, you’re going to build a crummy team.”  And crummy teams lead to crummy results.

Be humble. Find others smarter than you to add to your team, and then listen to them. Encourage differing opinions and ideas.  Build an organization where speaking up is expected and argument is seen as part of the process of improving results. Watch how conflicts are resolved  through initially unimaginable solutions.

If you can’t stand to be challenged and are unwilling to have your ideas questioned what does this say about you? Perhaps you’re worried you won’t be shown to be the smartest person in the room. And you aren’t. The smartest person in the room is the one always looking for new ideas and people to challenge them so that when the dust settles the best idea of all has emerged.





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