Why Strong Leaders Set Aside Personal Opinions and Let People Try New Things

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“Ingaged Leadership: A New Path to Organizational Success,” an article that I just wrote for Quality Digest, gave me an opportunity to address what I consider to be a critical leadership issue . . .

Good leaders set their opinions aside about what will work and what won’t, and allow people to try new things.

Here’s what I wrote in the article:

“This requires some effort. Yet when leaders allow people to try innovative things, new and ongoing improvements often result. The process is self-reinforcing, because when people see that their ideas are valued and heard, they become invested in your success. If you as a leader have to like everything, then by definition you are a micromanager. When you allow your staff to do things that in your opinion aren’t the right things, you then truly have an empowered team. It’s amazing how often you find you are wrong.”

Why It is Important to Differentiate Fact from Opinion

When people speak with any level of passion or conviction, they often speak as if what they are saying is a fact. In reality, much of what people try to pass off as facts are simply opinions. And when people state an opinion as a fact, their audience is prone to believe it to be a fact and react to it in a certain way. Most often, the conversation either ends or never gets to the point of addressing real issues.

You might hear someone in your organization say, for example, “You cannot bring that product to market by early next year because of A, B, and C.” That person is stating opinions as though they were facts and if you disagree, you look like you are calling him or her a liar.

If you cultivate the habit of delineating between fact and opinion during conversations, you become a more empowered leader who is able to move toward real solutions. From the other side of the equation, it is wise to cast a critical eye on the information you receive, by consistently challenging the assumption that what is being said is fact. To make the most informed decisions, you need to investigate and become as certain as you can that you are considering not opinions, but the reality of what is taking place.

Leadership Skills that Differentiate Opinions from Facts 

  • When you are expressing an opinion, precede it with the phrase, “In my opinion.” This raises the quality of the conversation by inviting people to contribute to your opinion, refute it, or offer productive alternatives of their own.
  • Ask other people, “Is what you are saying a fact or an opinion?” This encourages others to be more alert to situations in which they are tempted to offer their opinions as facts.
  • Point out when other people are presenting opinions as facts. This can be difficult to do because in a way, you are pointing out that those other people might be lying. Plus, it can be unpleasant to challenge other people’s opinions. If someone says, for example, “Your price increases are killing sales,” you should consider exploring that statement by pointing out that it is an opinion, not a fact. You can then explore that opinion to see if it has validity or is simply an attempt to box you into a corner or limit a productive search for information and solutions. In some cases, you will discover the other person is simply trying to advance his or her own agenda or goals. One good choice of words is to say, “I believe . . .” (“I believe that other factors could be at work too . . . let’s explore them.”) If you say them in a non-confrontational way, those words help you address the reality that another person is expressing an opinion as though it were a fact.
  • Get into the habit of looking for facts. If someone says, “Your price increases are killing sales,” you can work with that person to arrive at statistics, data, feedback, and facts that either support or refute the opinion. This elevates the quality of your conversation to a level of higher ingagement. 

How to Put this Advice into Action

Here’s a simple exercise for you to try. For the next few days, listen carefully to what you hear on the news, on the job, and from your friends and family members. Also listen critically to what you say. Try to differentiate opinions from fact. Chances are you will notice that opinions make up a large part of the “incoming information” that you are receiving. And when you learn to spot opinions that are masquerading as facts, you will be on your way to becoming a much more effective leader.

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