Say what you will about opposites attracting — the fact is that for the most part, we feel drawn towards those who are most like us. This is especially the case in upper levels of management. A quick look at leaders within companies will reveal that there tends to be a common culture — a workplace not of diversity, but sameness — in thought and action.
But while it’s only natural to appreciate those who follow and never challenge us, being too comfortable can obstruct the innovation, leadership and direction necessary to drive your company forward. When I hire, I look for people who will challenge me — those who aren’t afraid to tell me things that may be tough to hear. When making key decisions, I want to be surrounded by those who will question my strategies and suggest changes that I may not have thought of.
When assembling your team, you don’t want people who think the same as you and who will agree with you every step of the way. It may sound counter intuitive, but you want thought leaders who will challenge you, question you and force you to explain yourself. Here are six reasons why:
1. Yes men will get in your way.
They’ll agree with you and make you feel better about yourself, but in the long run, yes men — or women — will become your worst nightmare. They’re not sincere, and they can’t be trusted, especially not in positions of authority. They’ll agree with what you say, but they won’t call you out on areas where you may be mistaken — areas that if left unchecked could land you into trouble. Nowhere would this be more disastrous then when key decisions such as during an acquisition or merger are being made. Being surrounded by a group of yes men could sway you into making decisions that could seriously jeopardize the future of your company.
2. A fresh perspective can lead to innovation.
Constructive feedback is essential and a necessary part of innovation. The ability to run ideas by a team of objective thinkers is truly invaluable and giving your team the freedom to think independently of you can lead to tremendously valuable ideas. Allen Wesson, internal auditor of the Dallas Independent School District, tells of an employee who approached him with a plan to expand school audits. “I gave her time and freedom to develop her idea,” says Wesson. The result? An audit program that added significant value to the school and district.
It’s easy to develop tunnel vision, believing that our ideas are the best way to do things. But by seeking out opinions that may be different from ours, we bring in a fresh perspective — the best way to get an honest and unbiased assessment of the situation.
3. Empowering your team will motivate them.
The best way to motivate your team is by giving them a sense of empowerment — and independence.
“Autonomy is one of our fundamental human needs — an essential component of a healthy workplace,” says Nadia Goodman, M.A.
According to Ben Dattner, an organizational psychologist and founder of Dattner Consulting, independence in the workplace fills our need for intrinsic motivation. Giving your team the freedom to generate new ideas and rewarding independent thinkers will go a long way towards creating an exceptional work culture where employees are happier, more motivated and committed to their jobs.
4. Independent thinkers can help you to get the right result.
“It’s nice when people agree, but if everyone thought along the same lines all the time, nothing would ever change,” says Richard Branson. “Every company needs mavericks. Independence of thinking should be celebrated and encouraged.”
“The worst culture you can ingrain within a business is an atmosphere of saying yes to everything,” Branson continues. “When you are debating a new idea, those who disagree are crucial to getting the right result in the end. Yes men will only ever get so far.”
5. Thought leaders will keep you humble.
Stop thinking your way’s the only one. It’s not. Often, there are 100 ways to reach the end result, and chances are some of them may be better than yours. Surround yourself with people who will challenge you and try to ask opinions from those who you know will disagree with you. Often this can reveal real flaws in your plan. Keeping humble will save you from presuming that your strategies are infallible, and will help you to keep an open mind — something that’s extremely important when there are major decisions with serious implications on the line.
6. What about losing control?
How do you empower your team without losing control of your company? Surrounding yourself with different advisers doesn’t mean that you have to hand over the reins of your business, but it does mean that you master the art of listening and considering a situation from new angles.
While conflicting viewpoints can be difficult to hear, often they’re exactly what you need. Striving to create a culture where new ideas and different opinions are encouraged will result in a workplace that’s thriving and growing — one where innovation becomes second nature.
Is your work culture a place where challenging ideas and independent thinking is encouraged?