One of the most endearing of my dad’s qualities was an unbridled enthusiasm for being proven wrong. He was an architectural engineer and one of the most careful and thoughtful problem-solvers I’ve ever known. The fact is, he was rarely wrong because if he didn’t know something to be a fact, he wouldn’t give you an answer. It’s debatable if that makes you as good a husband as it does an engineer–I think of my poor mom waiting years for this or that home improvement as he calculated out the best way to get it done!
Dad loved getting to the best answer, no matter who got the credit. Confident in his own knowledge and accomplishments, he expected and embraced the occasions when he would be topped by the people on his team, his contractors, his competitors—which he genuinely believed was to his benefit and the betterment of the craft that he loved.
Even today I can perfectly recall his mantra, “I stand corrected! You’re right and I’m wrong,” and the tone with which he said it; without the slightest hint of resentment, and an unmistakable note of excitement.
As kids, it didn’t happen often, but “beating dad” at a math or logic game was a terrific moment. Not so much because we were competitive, but because of how he just lit up to see that the challenge was vanquished. He’d go over the solution and say, “Yes! That’s it! That’s a much better way than I did it! Of course!” I grew up admiring that quality in my dad, but it was years before I fully understood its power. I believed it simply embodied a passion to find “the truth”—when really it was a lesson in leadership.
What opened my eyes was observing over the years that unfortunately, the world is full of leaders that think being proven wrong makes them somehow appear less capable, smart or experienced. They unwittingly build a culture of land mines about them where their employees are afraid of getting shot down for daring to challenge them. Even worse, when someone does bring them a valuable solution, they fail to appropriately celebrate and credit that person. In these types of management environments sycophants thrive and innovators flee. I compare that culture to the one around my dad, where his quick acceptance of his own mistakes and radiant praise for his challengers generated the most fascinating desire for his devotees, myself included, to bring him our very best.
The people you lead always learn from you. They can learn to keep their ideas and opinions to themselves, or they can learn to share them. Stand corrected and your team will challenge you, surprise you, and adore you.