Sometimes the best solution is the one we’ve never thought of. But it can be especially difficult to embrace a new solution when we have actively championed a different one. When the boss clearly has a favored alternative, they often do not get the most accurate feedback. People may support it (or not support it) just because it’s the boss’s idea. They may be reluctant to point out flaws – or they may appear supportive but actually oppose the idea behind the scenes. Leaders who forge ahead with favored alternatives while ignoring or overlooking meaningful feedback and debate send messages about their value for others’ opinions.
But what about the leader who pushes one alternative, but is willing to accept another? What messages does this send? One superintendent we work with was convinced that his new technical school needed a football team. For all the right reasons, he thought this would help the district.
But not everyone agreed. He asked a team to use Decision Analysis and make a recommendation. After much discussion and study, the team concluded that it did indeed make sense to add a sports team. However, their recommendation clearly showed that track and field fit the agreed-upon objectives better than football.
The superintendent could’ve suggested the analysis was flawed and that they had left out some objectives – even though he had signed off on them. He could’ve thanked them for their analysis, thrown it out, and done what he wanted anyway. Or, he could’ve done what he ended up doing: admitting there was indeed a better solution and that they had raised points he hadn’t considered.
Despite his prior public support of a different option, he switched gears and gave his staff credit. What message does it send when a leader is willing to do this? It lets people know that:
Their thinking and hard work is valued, respected, and trusted
Making the right decision is more important than saving face – what matters is what’s best for the district
Of course, it is not always possible or desirable to concede that you may have been wrong. But there is value in thinking through what is being communicated one way or the other. Sometimes “folding” is the most sensible, savvy and effective strategy.