Is it Wrong to Always be Right?

By: Val Liberman, UL LLC

We like to be right. To have correct answers, to solve problems of others, to be seen as experts on a variety of topics. This pattern starts early – long before we ascend corporate ladders and assume positions of influence and leadership.

Starting in elementary school, we begin the laborious task of storing large amounts of information: mathematical formulas, historical facts and figures, names of countries, states and capitals, the list goes on. All of this stored information lies dormant until, one day, it is suddenly summoned with the words: “Close your books and get your pencils. It is test time.” We then start the painful retrieval process with one main purpose: to match the correct answer, to be right. To be right is to win, to advance, to triumph. The alternative? Unthinkable.

This continues in middle school, high school, college – decades of perfecting the skill of coming up with correct answers.

By the time we enter the workplace, we are seasoned veterans of correctness. Our ability to advance at work is highly correlated with our capacity to independently solve complex challenges and being seen as subject matter experts. “Paging Corporate Superhero…” Is it any wonder that we often struggle to admit mistakes, to ask for help, to not have the right answer?

Leading with humility has many definitions, one of which is the ability to accept, and even embrace, vulnerability – vulnerability to accept missteps, vulnerability to call for assistance, vulnerability to be wrong. What does it mean for today’s leaders and how does embracing vulnerability affect those around them? At UL we have been learning to lead with humility for the past 10 years of our journey towards enterprise excellence. Our three-year partnership with the Shingo Institute has only reaffirmed and enhanced this journey.

There is nothing wrong with our intrinsic desire to be right – we just have to have the humility to accept that better answers and ideas will often come from others around us. And that’s OK.

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