Raise your hand if you've recently initiated a conversation with someone who had a different opinion than you on a topic or decision. I posed this question to a group of leaders not that long ago, and the result was interesting. A pretty small percentage of hands went up.
I get it, we generally don't like tough conversations. Many people don't want conflict. It feels safer to have our opinions and perspectives confirmed by those around us, versus being challenged. However, we do not learn or grow if we stay away from conversations that push us in our thinking. You need to go no further than social media to see this play out. People more often are connected with, following and engaging with people who think like them. Over time, they weed out the people who might disagree with them to the point where the only perspectives and opinions they see are mirrors of their own. The combination of more communication through technology and increased physical isolation from others throughout the pandemic has also created a pretty perfect environment for topical echo chambers to flourish. This isn't good for anyone, but it is particularly dangerous for leaders.
When a leader limits their input to people and sources that simply confirm what they want to hear or think, they can quickly get into trouble. At minimum, their followers might buy-in less to the decisions they make. More troubling is when the decision has a significant negative result because it is based on incomplete information or understanding. The leader feels safe in the decision because they haven't heard or seen anything to suggest the decision should be different. However, the leader is actually choosing to consciously or unconsciously prioritize their own comfort over vetting the decision more thoroughly by including those who might disagree.
As a leader, you should regularly check-in with yourself to make sure you are engaging with people who will bring perspectives other than your own, and being proactive about doing so. Think about it like this. If you are choosing a contractor for a home repair project, you'd likely get a few different opinions and quotes. They might all be similar, or very different. One of them might tell you exactly what you WANT to hear in terms of scope and cost, so you get excited about working with them. Another might tell you what you NEED to hear, even if you don't like it. You probably would prefer to choose the contractor who says what you like, but that might lead to bigger problems down the road. Similarly, as leaders we need to regularly ask for multiple opinions, and intentionally seek out people we suspect might not tell us only what we want to hear.
How do we make sure we are doing that? Use these simple questions when you have big decisions to self-coach and make sure you aren't stuck in your personal echo chamber.
Have I talked with enough stakeholders to have a full view?
Who have I not talked to?
Have I intentionally avoided discussion with someone? If so, why?
Am I asking questions that help me to get new information, or just confirmation of what I already know?
Have I really listened to others, or only listened to what aligns with my idea?
As I've gathered information, have I looked for sources that might be in conflict with my idea/opinion/decision or am I mostly reviewing sources that align?
It is far easier to share and form our perspectives with people who think and see the world as we do, but the most successful leader is able to ask for, hear and consider a range of ideas and information.
Be the leader who regularly sits down with those that disagree, asks for data that conflicts and encourages dialogue between people who don't see eye-to-eye. It will make you a better leader and model for others to see that the safety of that echo chamber is a limit we all need to break free from.