Do you like getting in your own way? I do. My default mode is to think that I am always right and that my ideas are better than the rest of the world. I believe that the world would be a better place if people would just listen to me.
Have you ever left a meeting frustrated and convinced that you knew the right course of action, but the group decided on a different direction? Have you ever left your bosses office fuming because your idea was turned down? When was the last time you berated the leadership of your organization over a lunch with colleagues because of all of the stupid decisions your executives made?
Those are common feelings and emotions for anyone who has worked a job. They are even more frequent for those who care deeply about the product and mission of their company or organization.
How can you keep from storming out of boardrooms, tossing papers in disgust and saying things you may soon regret? How can you keep your leadership composure? Should you care less? Should you find another line of work? Probably not. For most of us the problem is that we like our ideas too much.
I would like to share a principle that I learned which I think might help you keep your leadership composure. I call it the 70% rule. This rule is an internal governor that helps manage a significant tension. Every leader must balance tension. On the one hand, he understands the importance of taking a position on an issue. On the other hand, when people disagree with him or reject his idea he often burns with anger or melts down in self-pity. The 70% rule helps manage this tension.
Every leader will have a default setting towards one side of the tension. This default setting is often a result of our natural temperament or learned leadership behavior. Some leaders are naturally decisive. They make a decision quickly, decisively and rarely look back. Other leaders are prone to lead by consensus often extending the decision-making timeline. The 70% rule is not intended to glorify one over the other but rather to help leaders identify which he or she is most prone towards and make progress towards balance.
A danger that many leaders face is to become impressed with their thinking on an issue. When this happens, the leader often loses objectivity. She can become blinded by the confidence of her decision-making process. This blindness will keep her from seeing others points of view. Confidence blindness is when a leader believes his or her decision is 80% or 90% correct. There may be a 10% or even a 20% chance that another opinion may be best but only a very slim chance. Confidence blindness often causes a leader to believe her opinion to be correct at a 98% to 99% level.
The impact of confidence blindness in a leader is that she can become pushy during a group discussion only concerned with sharing her idea. She may come across as arrogant having everything already figured out without the input of others. She can become frustrated and impatient when the discussion goes in a different direction than her idea. She will leave angry when she feels her idea was voted down. When a leader consistently displays confidence blindness, her colleagues will feel devalued and will doubt her leadership composure.
I was in the Chicago airport recently when a businesswoman seated near me spoke loudly and openly of her discontent with her trip. She said, “Why did you send me to Chicago? He didn’t even listen to a word I said.”
The Squishy Middle
At first adopting a 50/50 position, appears to be a very diplomatic and maybe even noble position. The thinking goes, “I can see both sides” or “Each side has many valid points.” These observations are a true description of every hard decision. The reality is that a 50/50 position is no position at all. It is simply the squishy middle ground. The reality is the leader doesn’t know his mind and, therefore, cannot be helpful in a discussion or decision. To adopt a 50/50 position will not enable a leader to exert the influence he desires.
Every leader will travel through the squishy middle on most issues. Some leaders move through this middle at the speed of light and others slog through the muck and mire for a considerable amount of time before they emerge. Often the more difficult and public the issue, the longer many leaders linger in the murky middle. But every leader must emerge from the squishy middle of 50/50, or he will be unable to lead.
I recently heard Jim share an all-to-familiar story. Jim shared of his former boss who was a smart, talented and winsome man. However, the longer Jim worked for his boss, the more he realized the difficulty his boss had emerging from the murky middle ground in making decisions. Jim reported, “On one project my boss indicated the direction he wanted the project to go. I diligently began working on the project with my team. A day or two later I happily reported the progress my team had made. His response was, ‘Oh yeah, about that. I am not sure that we are going in the right direction on that project. ”
Every boss needs the freedom to change her mind from time to time. However, a consistent pattern of indecision will undermine a leader’s ability to keep leadership composure.
The 70% Rule
I would like to suggest a good rule of thumb for a leader is to aim for 70% during your personal decision-making process. I understand that this may come across as sounding mediocre. Rest assured that I am not advocating for you to aim to be average. Arriving at 70% on an issue will ultimately assist you in both emerging from the squishy middle of indecision and protect you from being sucked into the vortex of confident blindness.
The concept is simple to understand yet difficult to maintain. If the guide for a leader in personal decision-making is to arrive at 70%, it will push him to arrive at a decision. It will force him to have a well-informed opinion. You cannot reach 70% without moving passed the point of indecision and onto the solid ground of certainty.
However, the aim of 70% will help protect the leader from becoming too enamored with his or her idea. It is so easy for a leader to allow his opinions to rise in his mind to 80%,90%, even 99%. Keeping in mind the aim of 70% will protect the heart and emotions of the leader. It will help him keep perspective on the topic at hand. It will allow her to humbly receive alternate ideas. I believe this simple guideline will help you become a better leader and keep your leadership composure.
Jeff is a leader who understood and applies the 70% rule in his leadership. Jeff is a high-level manager and is responsible to make many decisions every day. When interacting with the ideas presented to him by his direct reports he will often say, “This my preference but I will go with whatever you think is best.” When he has to make the hard decision to go in a different direction than his report desires he will clearly state, “We need to move in a different direction. I made this decision not in lieu of your idea but in full view of your valuable input.” The people who work for Jeff feel valued and respected despite the final decision. Adopting and applying the 70% rule give a leader the best opportunity to maintain his leadership composure.