By Claire Louge, Executive Director
I once thought that the best leaders were strong, assertive knowers. Leaders are the ones who make decisions because they have the most confident, unshakable answers, right?
I was wrong.
It turns out, we don’t need leaders who have ‘the answer’. The most powerful, influential people are the ones who can change course when they get better, more complete information. They are the ones who can admit that they don’t have the answer, but are willing to get it with you. They are the ones who don’t care about being right. They care about getting it right.
I get it. Being right feels really good. But the best and most needed leaders are able to give up the good feeling of being right and face the discomfort of getting it right. They are willing to fail and go back to square one. They are able to admit that they were wrong.
I’ve been the executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Arizona for a year and a half now. There have been several points in my experience that I have thrown out what I thought was the right way, in favor of a less comfortable, new way. I’ve changed my mind on the direction to take. I’ve changed my mind on what to focus on, what was most important, or what to do first. Every time, it took admitting that the way I was looking at things was wrong, and that I needed to change to get it right. Every time, it was uncomfortable.
But you know what? It’s an absolute honor and privilege to be able to be wrong, and have the space to learn. It’s critical to be given the space to do that. If we’re held to perfection, we don’t allow ourselves to be wrong. Nothing changes. Being wrong is the doorway to a better future.
To create a better world, we need leaders who are willing to step into that discomfort, who admit it when they’re wrong, and who are willing to learn to get it right. When leaders are unwilling to learn, we end up stuck in the systems we have.
And we don’t want to be stuck. Right now, our nation and our state are going through a reimagining of the child welfare system. Across the nation, groups of people are working to transform the ways in which we work to protect children by creating a new child well-being system, in which all families get the support they say they need, and importantly, that families are not punished for having needs.
To achieve this necessary transformation, we need leaders who can admit they’re wrong, who can say that the way they thought about a problem was incomplete, or the way that things were done were causing unintentional harm, so that those things can actually change. We need leaders who can listen and adapt and learn from others so they can lead the creation of a better world. Because good leaders are not knowers. Good leaders are great integrators of many perspectives. Good leaders are hungry learners. Good leaders have the courage to give up that good feeling of ‘being right’ so that they can get it right.
P.S. This is why I love putting on a conference every year. Good conferences challenge our thinking, allowing us to move more towards getting it right. I look forward to learning with you at our conference this month.