• The Value of Being Wrong

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    Recently I received the results of my comprehensive strategic leadership survey and 360 assessment. The results allowed me not only to see my shortcomings as a leader, but also areas of untapped leadership potential.

    One comment stood out: “Wilson embraces being wrong.”

    Within Army culture, being wrong and failure are synonymous, so I took this comment to heart.

    However, after giving it more thought, the comment reflects the evolution of my leadership philosophy as my responsibilities expand. I am no longer leading small teams and units comprised solely of soldiers. Rather, today I am working in larger organizations staffed by a diverse workforce and engaged with external agencies.

    As a young leader, I was focused upon the performance of my organization and obsessed with perfecting the rational decision making process. Today, I see less value in the development of decision making systems than in bringing together a broad set of stakeholders within and external to the organization to manage problems toward desired outcomes.

    As a young leader, I sat at the top of a hierarchical Army organization and used centralized control to guide the team. Today, I see myself as a member of a strategic enterprise working together to solve problems in a complex and volatile environment. As such, I view the development of learning organizations, as described in Senge’s The Fifth Discipline, and decentralization as essential to achieving organizational goals.

    This is where embracing of “being wrong” can serve as a positive attribute for public service leaders operating in complex environments. Katherine Schulz, author of Being Wrong, argued that the insatiable pursuit of being right can have a corrosive effect upon organizations. Alternatively, self-aware leaders who recognize their own limitations are more likely to find ways to tap into the collective power of the team to accomplish goals.

    John Mark Wilson
    Guest Blogger
    John Mark Wilson ('16) is a student at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, PA, where he is studying strategy. John Mark's research interests include how governments integrate military and non-military instruments to achieve national security interests. He is also mentoring a group of Georgetown University graduate students taking a course called "Hacking 4 Defense," in which teams employ the lean startup model to develop material solutions to national security problems.

    One thought on “The Value of Being Wrong”

    • Maricha L. says:

      Great article, Mr. Wilson! Thank you for your service to this country.

      First of all let me say I think it takes a real leader to admit to being wrong. We are all just human and prone to err. In his book, “Military Leadership Lessons for Public Service”, author Charles Szypszak writes, “Real leaders do not try to prove they made the right decision in the past by making more decisions with that goal in mind. They strive to make the best possible choices to accomplish the mission… If they make a mistake they live up to it and do what they can to correct it.”

      I agree with you wholeheartedly when you state self-aware leaders know their limitations. It is a wise leader that surrounds himself with those who are more knowledgeable and talented. Szypszak goes on to say, “Effective leadership requires empowering those who carry out the mission to make decisions about how it is to be done.” Simon Sinek author of “Start With Why” states, “The role of a leader is not to come up with all the great ideas. The role of a leader is to create an environment in which great ideas can happen.”
      In my opinion, these statements simply say “tap into the collective power of the team to accomplish goals.”

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