In it, she talked about how your vision dictates your goals dictates your ability to win.
She listed four things every leader should do to help increase success, including allow imperfection and to study history.
But the one that has stuck with me since I read the post was, “Have a devil’s advocate.”
We all know about “yes” men, but do you have “no” men? This is someone, or a group of people, you can trust to help you step out of your own head, and clearly examine the situation objectively. These are people who will not only tell you where weak spots might be, but help you actively see them on your own by being able to clearly communicate in a way that resonates.
This is advice every leadership book and coach in the world gives.
- Don’t hire people who are going to tell you what you want to hear.
- Hire people who are smarter than you.
- Create a team of people who are going to push back and play devil’s advocate.
Having a Devil’s Advocate is Hard
I have taken this advice. In fact, my entire team is made up of devil’s advocates. And, let me tell you, it’s hard.
When you start a business from the ground up, put all of your sweat, tears, heart, and money into it, and have your entire life wrapped into it, it’s really hard to hear your baby is ugly.
Because that is exactly what a devil’s advocate does. They tell you your baby is ugly…and then help you figure out how to make it pretty.
You waffle between wondering why things have to change when it’s been working great all along and wondering why you didn’t make the suggested changes (or think of them yourself) a zillion years ago.
Sometimes a devil’s advocate wants to make change for change sake and sometimes they want to make change because it’s the right thing to do.
As the leader, you have to figure out the difference and either push back or set your ego aside and listen. Really listen. And then take action.
Your Baby is Ugly
So how do you decipher between change for change sake and change that will make a difference?
First, put your ego aside. It’s not easy. You can do it. I promise.
You may cry. You may get really frustrated. You may get angry. You may have to drown your sorrows in a bottle of wine (not that, you know, I’ve ever done that).
Then you’ll pull on your big boy pants and follow these steps:
- Listen. This is the hardest part because you’ll listen and you’ll feel yourself getting defensive. You cannot do this. You have to listen without formulating your response. You have to listen without interruption. You have to listen and then think. Sometimes you may have to go away for a day or two before you respond.
- Back up your position. If you disagree with the devil’s advocate, back up your position. Tell them why. Perhaps you have knowledge about the business they do not have. Perhaps you’ve tried their suggestions in the past and they didn’t work. Begin a conversation about it and let them tell you why they think it will work this time.
- Ask yourself, “Does it go to our vision?” Sometimes the devil’s advocate will suggest things that are really great ideas, but take you away from your vision. Restate the vision and get them on board. But if it does go to the vision, it’s probably a good thing to consider.
- Yes, and… I learned this trick from reading Tina Fey’s Bossypants (which is a great book, if you haven’t read it). It’s a trick they teach you in improv. Rather than saying “no” or “but,” agree with the suggestion and add your two cents. This creates a collaborative discussion instead of a defensive and frustrating one.
- Concede defeat. There are going to be times – more times than you’re probably willing to admit – that you’ll have to concede defeat. The devil’s advocate will have won and you have to give them their gold medal.
Being the big boss is more about conceding control, motivating people to succeed, and coaching them to be their very best. If you can’t do that because your ego is in the way, no one will win.
A modified version of this first appeared on Spin Sucks.