Kill your darlings

By Al Pittampalli via hbr.org   Article

The Best Leaders Allow Themselves to Be Persuaded

“When we think of great leaders, certain characteristics come to mind: They have confidence in their abilities and conviction in their beliefs. They ‘trust their gut,’ ‘stay the course,’ and ‘prove others wrong.’ They aren’t ‘pushovers,’ and they certainly don’t ‘flip-flop.’ But this archetype is terribly outdated. Having spent three years studying many of the world’s most successful leaders for my new book, Persuadable, I’ve learned one surprising thing they have in common: a willingness to be persuaded.

Alan Mulally, the vaunted CEO who saved Ford Motor Company, is, for example, exceptionally skeptical of his own opinions. Ray Dalio, one of the world’s most successful hedge fund managers, insists that his team ruthlessly second-guess his thinking. … In our increasingly complex world, these leaders have realized that the ability to consider emerging evidence and change their minds accordingly provides extraordinary advantages.

Of course, leaders shouldn’t be persuadable on every issue. At some point, you have to stop considering new information and opinions, make a decision, and move forward. When time is scarce or the matter at hand isn’t very consequential, it’s often okay to trust your gut and independently choose a course based on previous convictions. But for higher-stakes decisions, it’s important to adopt a more persuadable mindset. …

Kill your darlings. Once you’ve opened the door to feedback and debate, you may find that the evidence is piling up against your previously held view. The next step is to actually be willing to change your mind. That can be difficult when it comes to beliefs to which we’ve become attached, whether it’s a new project idea, an opinion on a longtime vendor, or the assumption that you’re a succinct communicator. Writers know a lot about this fear of letting go. We have this terrible habit of falling in love with our own work and picking fights with editors who try to change our words. That’s why writers are advised to ‘kill their darlings’ before anyone else has a chance to. The same applies to leaders.”

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