Leadership Caffeine™-Finding Right is Different than Having to Be Right

image of a coffee cup“I want to know what you know.”

One of my early career managers used this line regularly when engaging with her team members. She was genuine in her interest in our take on problems and opportunities, and you could almost hear her mind working as she processed the information and compared and contrasted it with her own views.

Her employees genuinely appreciated her effort to see a situation from multiple vantage points. Instead of assuming we had to sell the boss on our ideas, we approached discussions on problems and issues as opportunities to share knowledge and build upon the ideas of others in our group.

This boss wasn’t concerned about being right…she was concerned about working together to find the right way forward. Whether it was re-framing a problem or developing a new solution to a sticky situation, the sharing of ideas and insights invariably had an outcome that felt right. It was more than a compromise, it was a mutual effort to construct a better outcome. It’s no surprise that she continues in a long and successful career as a senior leader with a long line of alumni team members who draw upon her example in their own leadership roles.

Too many in leadership roles are more concerned about being right than finding right. The best leaders recognize that it’s all about working with team members to design the way towards right.

6 Approaches that Great Leaders use to Guide their Teams Towards Right:

1. Effective leaders bite their tongues and ask before they tell. Nothing shuts people down faster than a boss who’s always quick to process on a situation and opine. Once the boss’s opinion is out there, the ability to pursue divergent directions or approaches is all but dead.

2. They encourage others to frame problems and opportunities, gently using questions to help people think through the completeness and clarity of their viewpoints.

3. Good leaders use questions as teaching tools. They liberally use “How would you… ?” or, “How might you…  ?” or, “What if… ?”to help individuals and groups view issues from all sides and to help them move from  situation assessment to approach development.

4. They step-in when needed. Effective leaders recognize the need to sometimes insert boundaries or parameters to help move individuals and teams from divergent thinking to convergent approach development.

5. Effective leaders know how to spot the traps. They are sensitive to the decision-making and cognitive biases that bedevil groups and individuals and they help everyone recognize and strive to move beyond those very human issues.

6. They practice “seek first to understand” management. Good leaders understand that better solutions, more engaged employees and a healthier working environment are often the outcomes of “seek first to understand” management.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The author, F. Scott Fitzgerald offered: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”  How well do you function when the ideas of your team members differ from your own? If that makes you uncomfortable, you’ve got some work to do. If you’ve already discovered the health benefits of helping others achieve right versus you as the leader having to be right, keep it up. Your employees will appreciate you and your boss will thank you for the great results.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register here

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check our Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Enebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.rgize Your Professional Development

Download a free excerpt of Leadership Caffeine (the book) at Art’s facebook page.

New to leading or responsible for first time leader’s on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting our in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

Need help with Feedback? Art’s new online program: Learning to Master Feedback




By | 2016-10-22T17:11:25+00:00 November 4th, 2012|Decision-Making, Leadership|8 Comments

About the Author:

Art Petty is a coach, speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.


  1. Andrew Meyer November 4, 2012 at 9:14 pm - Reply

    Hey man, nice post as usual.

    I know you’re enjoying the Packers for the last couple weeks, but if you watched Coach McCarthy’s presser after the game, he ends talking about the importance of developing leaders at every level of the organization. That no matter how good the leaders are at the top of the organization (Rodgers and Woodsen), you only become successful if you develop leaders with rookies and people just coming in.


    If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, check in at about the 8 minute mark.

    In case he hadn’t received enough publicity, Rodgers was also on 60 Minutes Sunday. Can’t this poor kid get a little love?

    • Art Petty November 5, 2012 at 2:20 pm - Reply

      Andy, thanks for reading and for sharing the Packer update!! -Art

  2. Jennifer V. Miller November 5, 2012 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    I would also add that there is a distinction between “knowing” and “believing”. If you “know” something, you tend to see it as a fact and therefore not really all that open to interpretation. If you “believe” something, well, you probably feel strongly about it as well, but there may be more room for discussion if you understand that it’s a belief you hold. The problem comes when people present a belief as a fact – saying something like, “I know that we can’t meet that deadline.” That is actually a belief. It may or may not be true that the deadline can’t be met, but by asking the open ended questions to uncover what other people “know”, you will get closer to the “truth” of a situation.

    GREAT post, Art! I’ve shared it with several of my coaching clients.

    • Art Petty November 5, 2012 at 2:20 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Jennifer! I love your value-add. Much appreciated. -Art

  3. Jonena Relth November 6, 2012 at 11:28 am - Reply

    Thank you for this excellent post. We should all do our best to emulate the leader you portray. All six of your points are vital for people to feel comfortable sharing their knowledge, to work well together and gain respect for their leaders. My favorite: 6. They practice “seek first to understand” management.

    • Art Petty November 6, 2012 at 11:34 am - Reply

      Thanks, Jonena for reading and writing. Number 6 is one I have to constantly remind myself of in my exuberance to get to the conclusion. It can be difficult to remember how critical it is to “seek first to understand.” Cheers, -Art

  4. Rob Norton-Edwards November 7, 2012 at 4:45 am - Reply

    Thanks for your insightful post. I have just ‘discovered’ your work and will be back!

    I fully endorse the idea of inclusiveness in discussion, idea and solution generation. In my experience, this is far and away the most effective way (but not the only one). I would take it a step further on occasion though: I’d hand over the lead (certainly for delivery) to the people who most influenced the decision. That way, we get the benefit of them practicing their own leadership skills in a safe (mentored) environment, and we can use their passion, enthusiasm and ‘ownership’ for the idea as a driver for delivery. The challenge comes with keeping that enthusiasm and belief from becoming blindness to alternatives – and they learn that it’s not about being right, but about seeking right.

    I guess my comment is similar to yours, but looking at a different aspect: just as the leader must remember they don’t have to BE right, so the leader doesn’t always have to BE leading.

    • Art Petty November 7, 2012 at 7:13 am - Reply

      Rob, thanks for the kind words and for the insightful add to the post! What you describe is a great approach for creating opportunities for others to test the leadership waters, gain experience and build confidence. Thanks for sharing! -Art

Leave A Comment