Leadership Lesson From Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs: Stop Worrying About Being Right, and Focus on This Instead
For leaders, an excess of self-confidence is something of an occupational hazard. Of course, we all prefer to be right about the decisions and judgments we make. But, any leader who feels the need to be right all the time is making a grave mistake.
What we as leaders really need to do is to create a system that gets things right most of the time--work that begins with surrounding ourselves with talented people who can keep the business pointed in the right direction.
Kim Scott illustrates this important distinction in her best-selling book Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. Kim says she was having a conversation about Steve Jobs with Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, and Grove remarked, "F-ing Steve always gets it right."
Kim replied, "Nobody's always right." But then Grove clarified: "I didn't say Steve IS always right. I said he always GETS it right. Like anyone, he is wrong all the time, but he insists--and not gently, either--that people tell him when he's wrong. So, he always gets it right in the end."
The best leaders want to be challenged and proven wrong by others, because that ensures that the best ideas will rise to the surface. Ray Dalio, author of Principles: Life and Work, refers to this concept as an "idea meritocracy." Organizations that recognize that the best ideas can originate from anywhere and anyone--regardless of role or position--empower people to challenge leadership and bring their best ideas to the table.
This is something that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos appears to know intrinsically. In an interview with CNBC, Bezos remarked that he is much less interested in promoting people who are smart than he is about filling his organization with people who are right most of the time. "I don't care how smart they are," he said. "I want to see a track record of hard decisions that ended up being right."
In other words, Bezos gives leadership opportunities to those with a track record of delivering the best results--even when the right move challenges Bezos' own point of view. Like Jobs, what is most important to Bezos is not that he be right, but that his team gets to the right answers.
These are two of the greatest business leaders of our generation, and both check their egos at the door. It's hard to argue with their results. Here are a few ways to follow their lead.
Highlight Other People's Ideas
Learn to Speak Last
Let Others Challenge You Publicly
Reward Outcomes Over Hard Work