“Second is to exhaust all their arguments, to see how they change.”

The above is a line from “The Way of the General”, a series of essays written by a legend of a military strategist, Zhuge Liang. This line is one of his ways he used to perceive the character of others. In an era without lie detection machines, he was able to tell who was being different from their actual selves.

Before I officially moved in, my flatmate and close friend walked into my room to pick a book to read. After he told me his choice of book, I thought it would be interesting to see how he would react to it. I say that because the book is the antithesis of the beliefs that have fueled his career as an entrepreneur.

Why did I let him read that book?

Because you get a glance into people’s true nature when they are presented with strong evidence opposite to their belief system.

Why should leaders and entrepreneurs care?

Test Your Ideas

Many successful entrepreneurs, such as Marc Andreessen, use concepts like having a “red team”, that is created for the sole purpose of shutting down one’s latest idea. Even if they think the idea is a great idea, the red team must play the part of arguing against it. Afterwards, if the idea still seems good to the person who came up with it, then everyone executes on it without any questions.

Compare this to the person who never tests an idea, but instead doesn’t even tolerate the thought that it could fail.

The benefit of having exercises like these is getting different perspectives. You also discover how much conviction you truly have in your idea. Not testing it in any way is a recipe for disaster and regret later on.

As a result, you become a whole lot more confident in what you believe in because you have addressed all the concerns. This gives you a solid foundation to build upon.

As a bonus, you may generate even better ideas through this process. There is often inspiration in pulling from opposite ends of the spectrum.

Hold Your Leaders to This Standard

For leaders, this is about how you show up. What do you do when you are presented with points of view that differ from your own? How do you respond to them shows how strong of a leader you are.

But first, this must be said. Doing this has nothing to do with proving how right you are. In fact, if you try to do so and you cannot back yourself up, this will backfire on you. Leaders fear appearing weak. But this is a prime example of where trying to be strong turns that fear into reality.

Instead, why not acknowledge the other perspectives? Leaders do not put their own self interests, their need to be right or their urge to be the smartest person in the room ahead of the team’s purpose. If the other perspectives serve the organization, then a strong leader will acknowledge and explore them.

Does this make them look weak?

No.

While this may seem to display vulnerability, these leaders instead create authenticity and safety within their teams. If the leader is perfectly alright with discarding his or her own ideas for the sake of furthering the organization, why can’t everyone else? Done right, this can use conflict to create progress and still keep everyone happy.

And So…

The issue is never about who is right or wrong. Surprisingly, people don’t actually care about that. What they do care about is how they are treated.

What would it be like to work with someone who stubbornly clings to their own views and never acknowledges others? And what would it be like to work with someone who knows they are right but still takes the time to hear out the views of others and explores the interplay between the different perspectives?

My friend belongs to the latter group. While he did experience discomfort reading the book, he found it fascinating and acknowledged its viewpoints. He was willing to question his beliefs and ideas. In the end, this expanded his perspective. 

How likely are you to do the same?

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