(First published June 2013 on www.theclubsv.org/news.)
A scene in one of my all-time favorite shows, Sports Night (critically-acclaimed, which I now understand means “doomed after two seasons,” to my great dismay), struck me immediately and has stuck with me for years. The boss, Isaac Jaffe (“Benson,” if you’re a GenX’er) was dispensing a bit of leadership advice. He said, “It's taken me a lot of years, but I've come around to this: If you're dumb, surround yourself with smart people. If you're smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.”
Think about that. How comfortable are you surrounding yourself with smart people who disagree with you? It takes a pretty confident person to take that step and, even more, to follow through and reap the benefit of it. So often, we feel that we need to be the smartest person in the room. As the leader, shouldn’t we have all the answers? Isaac says, “no.” We can learn from those who have a different viewpoint. We can grow from the challenge of really listening to someone who disagrees with us. What a great insight. How freeing. Why not find the best people? Not just those who think like us -- the best.
Coming from a litigation background, this rings particularly true. There are no right answers in litigation, but there are better answers. You cannot arrive at those answers without discussion. You cannot get there if everyone follows the same train of thought. You never know what will trigger the breaking idea on a case, so you cannot afford to close any doors. Surrounding yourself with those who disagree with you (and creating an environment in which it is acceptable to express that disagreement) means the team as a whole will consider a broader perspective. When that happens, the team will collectively arrive at a better answer.
Our challenge: can we fully hear the viewpoint of someone who disagrees with us? Can we accept his suggestion even if it is contrary to what we put on the table? Can we put aside our own suggestions (and, egos) in favor of someone else's? If it’s the best suggestion on the table, why not embrace it, credit the teammate who suggested it and build our strategy around it?