Leadership Skills: Use “Works” and “Doesn’t Work”

In a recent blog post (Decide Only Among Right Choices) I wrote about our client who asks his team members to bring him only “right” choices when explaining their decisions to him.

What I like most about this philosophy is how it assumes more than one “right” solution. And I promised that I’d share how Partnerwerks’ associates treat the notions of “right” and “wrong.”

To achieve immediate acknowledgment among team members for the unique perspective each member adds, I always challenge a group to remove the words “right” and “wrong” from their shared vocabulary.

I ask them instead to simply substitute the words “works” and “doesn’t work.”

I’ve written previously about how this simple agreement helps each member recognize that their “wrongs” and “rights” are not moral absolutes, but instead represent individual points of view (Collaboration: It’s Not About Being Right or Wrong).

Here are four more distinct gains from removing “right” and “wrong” from our vocabularies:

1. We’re open to more possibilities.
Increasingly, we’ve become aware that right versus wrong infers only two potential conditions — a scarcity mentality — however the language of “works” and “doesn’t work” provides for abundant potential conditions.

2. Our attention is on the present.
The language of right and wrong infers permanence about a choice or condition (e.g., “The customer’s always ______!”), but we live in an ever-changing world. “Works” and “doesn’t work” acknowledge the immediate currency of a choice or condition.

3. Keeps us learning and unlearning.
“Right” and “wrong” make us overly certain of things, while “works” and “doesn’t work” keeps us noticing what really is.

Think about this: denial is what happens when certainty meets data to the contrary!

Remember the speech Tommy Lee Jones’ character “K” makes to Will Smith’s character James Edwards (aka, “J”) in the movie “Men in Black” after showing him the jolly alien life forms in the coffee room?

“Yup, people think they have a pretty good bead on things,” said K. “Fifteen hundred years ago everybody was certain that the earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everyone was sure the earth was flat. And fifteen minutes ago you knew people were alone on this planet! Just think what you’ll know tomorrow!”

4. Connects us in relationship instead of assigning disconnected states of being.
Authoritative use of “right” and “wrong” can numb us into operating as disconnected automatons. Think about it: “That’s right” can be falsely affirming and “that’s wrong” can be falsely degrading.

I’ve found myself so sensitive to this that when my son points and says, “That dog’s brown,” instead of responding “That’s right,” I affirm him by saying “I agree, Thom, that dog appears brown to me, too!” I don’t know about you, but I prefer the connection that comes with that. It works for me.

Get Started With This Week’s 5-Minute Stretch

For the remainder of the day today, make a conscious effort to hear yourself saying
“that’s right” or “that’s wrong.”

When you do, ask yourself silently what you could say that would more accurately represent you. Say it instead, or say it next time.

Leaders and coaches: Get Christopher’s best team building and leadership strategies collected over two-plus decades of solving teamwork problems for smart people. Attend the acclaimed Creating Results-Based Teams workshop, or get this FREE Special Report while it lasts: The Five Flawless Steps to Building a Strong Executive Leadership Team.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide.




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