When the Search for the Right Answer Isn’t a Search
As leaders and teams debate viewpoints and pour through data and information searching for the right or best answer, everyone presumes to know what is meant by the right answer. What constitutes the so-called right answer in the minds of leaders and team members varies more than we generally believe.
The logical presumption is that the right answer is always the most effective or most accurate conclusion. The problem is that not everyone at the table makes this presumption. Unbeknownst to others, some leaders and team members believe the right answer is the one most supported by others.
In other words, the right answer is the one the most powerful or wise or experienced colleagues say it is. Objective reality takes a backseat to how others subjectively view the answer. This confounds decision-making in a highly subversive way.
Leaders and team members who operate from this standard seek to agree and support others more than they seek the best path forward. As such, they refrain from making counter-arguments or offering competing views.
Their goal is not to reach the objectively best conclusion, but rather to prop up whatever answer others most believe in. When these colleagues are subject-matter experts on any topic related to the decision, their reticence to express their candid viewpoints can have a profound effect on the ultimate conclusion.
Good leaders make sure everyone understands what is meant by the right answer. They insist that everyone at the table offer their candid views about the best choice or path forward. By treating everyone as peers, they encourage their colleagues to refrain from supporting others and to stand on their own convictions about the facts and the conclusions.
The difference between the right answer and the answer others want to be right is significant. Without everyone committed to landing on the objectively right answer, teams make poor decisions, sometimes with devastating consequences.
To get to the right answer, leaders and team members must ask the right questions. Those questions are always about objective truths and not about how we think others feel about the issue. When it comes to making decisions together, empathy can be a killer.