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Would You Rather Be Effective or Right?

There’s someone in every group who thinks they have the best answer, and they want everyone else to know it.

If you’re in a leadership role, there’s a pretty decent chance that when you were a kid, you were one of the smartest kids in class. If that wasn’t you, you probably remember who was. You know the smartest kid routine. They always had the right answer and wanted to make sure everyone else—especially the teacher—knew it. In organizational leadership, being right is less important than being effective. My point isn’t that you should strive to be wrong. My point is that there is often more than one right answer and your answer is one among many possibilities. Instead of seeking to prove you’re right, focus on being effective.

Here are three action steps you can take to make that shift.

First, get in the habit of asking yourself, “What am I really trying to accomplish here?” In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to get spun up or distracted by the little things people do or say that don’t really matter. When you feel yourself getting triggered by that, take a couple of deep breaths to clear your head and calm down. Then remind yourself what you’re really trying to accomplish and line your comments and actions up against that picture.

Second, take a break or sleep on it. Some of the biggest clown car moves I see from managers and executives happen when they react to an email they disagree with by immediately sending back a flamer to tell the sender how wrong they are. Quite often they’ll compound this by cc’ing everyone in a 50 mile radius. The next time you get triggered by an email, take a break or sleep on it before you reply. That will give you an opportunity to regain emotional equilibrium and choose a response that is more about being effective than right.

Third, get in the habit of asking yourself, “Does this really matter?” When you get up on the balcony and look at the pattern of what happens in your typical day or week there’s a lot of stuff that happens that just won’t matter in the long run. If you try to fight every battle, you’ll likely end up losing the war. Get clear about the things that really matter and quit engaging on the things that don’t.

For more ideas on how to choose effectiveness as a more important outcome than being right, check out Chapter 10 of The Next Level. Pick up a big footprint view of your role; Let go of a small footprint view of your role.