Escape the Bubble: Be Wrong, Be Uncomfortable, and Be Quiet

As a leader, how insulated are you? CEOs and other leaders can easily slip inside a bubble created by their own power and prestige. Outside this bubble are critical ideas and information, including small bellwether changes that signal big market shifts. Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center, has a solution; in his words, “Innovative executives deliberately put themselves into situations where they may be unexpectedly wrong, unusually uncomfortable, and uncharacteristically quiet.

What does Gregersen mean by being wrong? He points out that absolutely everyone is wrong on a regular basis, quoting Walt Bettinger, CEO of Charles Schwab: “The difference between successful executives and unsuccessful ones is not the quality of their decision making. Each one probably makes good decisions 60% of the time and bad ones 40% of the time – and maybe it’s even 55% to 45%. The difference is, the successful executive is faster to recognize the bad decisions and adjust, whereas failing executives often dig in and try to convince people that they were right.”

Similarly, to be uncomfortable, in Gregersen’s parlance, is to leave “the zone where you feel competent and in control.” When off-balance due to discomfort, your mind takes in more information in an effort to stabilize, and asks itself new questions to regain a feeling of control. And to be quiet is to really listen; not to fit new information into your existing mental narrative, but to openly accept new facts and try to look at them with fresh eyes. This technique, while far from the usual executive mode of broadcasting confidence, will allow those weak, external bellwether signals to make it through the leadership bubble.

Read the full Harvard Business Review article to learn more about bursting the leadership bubble. For more information about how Gregersen can help your organization unlock the unknown unknowns, contact us.

Danny Stern: