I've been following the Harvard Business Review blog now for as long as I've been blogging at Hourglass. I find it informative and insightful. I don't read every post (they have a lot of bloggers over there), but have developed the habit of following certain ones that I find especially relevant to my world and, dare I say it, inspiring. Bloggers like Umair Haque, Dan Pallotta, and, increasingly, Michael Schrage.
But every once and a while I come across a post that leaves me thinking nothing but, "Well, duh. Doesn't everyone already know that?"
Case in point is this post from Robert I. Sutton titled "A Great Boss is Confident, But Not Really Sure." In it, Sutton has a model for those who aspire to be a truly great boss to follow:
...the people we consider wise have the courage to act on their beliefs and convictions at the same time that they have the humility to realize that they might be wrong, and must be prepared to change their beliefs and actions when better information comes along.
To which I react with a big "well, duh." In fact, tying this more to the theme of The Hourglass Blog, I suspect that nearly everyone in Generation X with any measure of leadership experience would respond with a "well, duh."
Since when is this a revolutionary idea--that leaders don't have all the answers and may in fact be (gasp!) wrong from time to time?
Sutton continues as if he is imparting sacred wisdom, even citing famous innovation consultants who share the view that great leaders effectively balance "confidence" with "doubt."
This balancing act between confidence and doubt is a hallmark of great bosses. The confidence inspires people to follow them and believe in them, but the doubt helps ensure they get things right. They are always listening and watching for evidence that they might be wrong, and inviting others to challenge their conclusions (albeit usually in private and in "backstage" conversations).
As I wrote in my last post about Generation X (dubbing them the "IF" generation because their natural tendency to keep their options open makes them uniquely suited to deal effectively with the uncertainties and "ifs" of leadership), this advice to be "always listening and watching for evidence that they might be wrong, and inviting others to challenge their conclusions," will strike Xers as so obvious as to not be even worth mentioning. And what's this business about challenging conclusions "in private and in "backstage" conversations"? What management era is that idea from?
If this is the level of leadership insight Xers can expect to get from the Harvard Business Review, I may need to stop calling them members of the "IF" generation and switch to the "Well, duh" generation.
Exactly who is this "be a human being not a marble statue" advice for anyway? Maybe the Tom Petty reference at the start of the post is a hint. It seems to me that Xer leaders aren't having any trouble making decisions when the way forward is unclear. What they struggle with is being taken seriously by older leaders when they do.