When the Leader is Challenged

group walking down hill with leader in front

Last month our sales team had its annual two-day strategic planning event.  The team talked about its strategic goals for not only the next year, but also about where we wanted to head over the long-term.

I love how engaged our team members are.  They’re smart, motivated, passionate, and not only willing to challenge each other, they’re also willing to challenge me. In fact, one of my favorite moments of the two days was when one of our team members openly challenged my views.

The issue had to do with a pricing expectation.  The sales person stated that they disagreed with my expectation. In fact, they thought it was off-base and could lead to us losing out on business.  Rather than leave it at that, I challenged them back.  What would their expectation be if this was their company? (And it is their company because it is OUR company!)  They stated that while they saw where I was coming from, they felt a lower figure would be more apt so long as we were guaranteed the business for a certain number of years.

My response?

I’d take that deal today!

The point of this post isn’t about who is right.  In fact, I am being vague with some of the details above because they don’t matter and they’re private!  The point is that as leaders, we need to be open to being challenged. We can actually benefit greatly by it!

Being challenged matters because no single person has all the answers, or all the information.  In the scenario above, the salesperson actually made some compelling points and offered a perspective that helped improve upon my original assumption.  So, by listening to them, my view improved.

Furthermore, by listening to them I demonstrated that as a team, we listen to each other!  Remember, the entire team was present when I was challenged.  So, if I, the leader, failed to listen, then why should anyone else on the team?  We have to remember that both positive and negative behaviors are mirrored by those we lead.

Finally, the experience demonstrated that we can disagree without having any repercussions. Our culture today sees a disagreement as a personal attack. This is not the way it should be, and we need to make sure we create an environment in our workplaces where this is not the case. I did not hold a grudge towards this individual, nor did they toward me.  How do I know?  Because I intentionally sought them out at our first break and affirmed them, then revisited the conversation later in the day by telling them what I learned from it, and by texting them and another team member that evening to tell them both about my favorite two moments from the day’s events (with this one making the cut!).  All that might sound like a lot, but as the leader, it is my job to ensure that we are “all good” and that we do not silence dissenting opinions. (We aren’t right ALL the time!)

Ineffective “leaders” often crave self-esteem boosts coming from ineffective, and often uninspired team members, who long ago gave up on challenging the status quo.  The more effective path is the one where the leader surrounds themselves with people who will sometimes disagree, and often challenge.  As my experience above reminds me, everyone gets better when this happens.

Especially the leader.