Why Great Leaders Dare To Be Wrong

Why Is It So Hard to Be Wrong? Vulnerability is the Gateway to Growth.

You’re an experienced leader with a track record of success. You’re brilliant at what you do, and you’ve got where you are today because you consistently have the answers. But could this need to have the answers stop you from achieving even more? I’ve had a couple of experiences recently that reminded me of the vast power of vulnerability for a leader’s (and my) growth.

A Selfish Question

Recently, after Karin Hurt’s TEDx Rockville presentation (the video won’t be available for a couple of months), I was talking with Haley Foster, who has coached hundreds of TEDx presenters. As we talked, I posed a leadership and culture question that has confounded me for decades. (I’ll save the question itself for another time.)

TEDx Rockville Llamas

As you might expect from Haley, she said, “That would make an excellent talk.”

“I don’t think so,” I shook my head. “I don’t have an answer yet.”

Haley looked at me. Intently. “So what if you don’t have to have an answer? What if you were to share the question with hundreds of smart people who could all work on the answer?”

Her words hung in the air. As much as I’ve sought an answer to this question for many years, I realized the truth in what she said. Avoiding the vulnerability of others’ answers and keeping the question to myself was selfish. If I don’t share my unanswered question, none of us can benefit from potential answers.

Feet Gloves, Vulnerability, and Being Wrong

One more example: in the last two years I’ve fallen in love with trail running. But after a couple of stubbed and broken toes, I’ve been struggling with a pesky problem: blisters.

I’ve tried almost everything (including diaper cream—don’t judge, it works. It’s cheap but messy!)

Several times people suggested toe socks. Yes, the socks that look like gloves for your feet. I hated the idea of individual toes in little toe socks. In fact, they gave me the creeps. But…I’d never tried them.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in front of a pair of toe socks at REI. The socks were on sale. And looking at them, I realized that my dislike for them was an assumption, not based on any experience. So, I bought a pair and tried them out. Turns out, they were great!

Does it take vulnerability to admit you’re wrong? That you’ve deprived yourself of a simple solution because of your blind stubbornness?

Yes. But I am glad to tell you I was wrong. I’ve since bought two more pairs to have them in steady rotation.

The Leader’s Paradox: To Lead is to Learn

You’re probably used to having answers and making decisions. And having those answers was a vital part of your early success. But let’s face it – the people you lead, the ones who are on the front lines, will often know more about the nitty-gritty of the work than you. That’s their job, and they’re good at it. Their experience is more recent.

So, the question is, can you learn from them? Can you show up with vulnerability and admit, even if it’s just to yourself, that you might be wrong? More importantly, can you change your mind based on what you learn?

Vulnerability to Embrace Change: The Key to Unlocking Your Full Potential

In a recent podcast conversation with Oscar Trimboli, he defined true listening as “the willingness to have one’s mind changed.” I love that definition so much. There’s so much to learn when we ask a good question and truly listen. (And I strongly recommend this episode with Oscar – you’ll never look at listening the same way again!)

As a leader, you’ve built your career on having answers. But the most transformative leaders aren’t just answer-givers, they’re question-askers. They’re vulnerable enough to learn something new. To be proven wrong.

You may never try toe socks, and that’s okay. But can you admit when you don’t know, or when you’re wrong, and learn from these moments? To show up with the humility and vulnerability to change your mind when faced with new information.

Your Turn

Are you ready to unlock the next level of your leadership potential? Show up with the vulnerability to change your mind and learn something new, even if it means admitting you were wrong.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments (or drop me an email) and let’s celebrate the times you’ve been wrong and learned something new from it. It’s in admitting our mistakes that we learn, grow, and become leaders who truly make a difference.

Related: Give Everyone a Chance To Speak and Be Heard at Work