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On Being Always Right

“I have a problem – sometimes, when I think that I am right about something, it can be a real source of tension between me and the person I’m arguing with. And the reason it’s a source of tension is that I’m right.”

-Comedian Mike Birbiglia

Have you ever worked with a supremely self-confident individual who generally delivers high performance and assumes that his/her beliefs, judgments, ideas, and decisions are always right?

Working with corporate executives, we at times encounter individuals who seem to always think they are right… about everything. Some state facts and factoids with an astonishing level of confidence. They want their solutions to rise to the top. They offer opinions in a condescending tone while disregarding the views of others. The fact is: Sometimes, these individuals are indeed right. However, when they are wrong, the consequences can be severe. Huge mistakes can result due to a lack of analysis, faulty due diligence, inadequate expertise, and insufficient deliberation.

This type of individual sometimes has a compulsive need to correct other people. She/he is quick to point out the folly in the perspectives or opinions of others. These always-right individuals, by their rightness, default to making others wrong, which causes the others to disparage, disengage, and even disassociate. You may experience this yourself when you hear comments from managers like: “Bob, I appreciate what you and Cathy are saying, but what you are proposing will fall short; I’ve seen situations like this before and my approach always works, so let’s not waste any more time debating this issue.”

The conundrum is that the overly self-confident, always-right leader often is a high-performing individual. Through their own talents and will, they somehow deliver positive business results. And because they produce results, they get promoted based on their personal achievements. Unfortunately, their lack of self-awareness and the impact of their always-right behaviors on others causes disengagement and encourages individualistic, self-promoting behavior among team members. Sadly, this is the always-right blueprint for success, and they all too often fail to be effective leaders.

Always-right individual performers promoted to leadership roles can be a disaster waiting to happen. In a leadership role, the results they will achieve are the results that they alone can achieve – the results won’t be the outcome of the inherent power that emanates from the collective efforts of committed, engaged, motivated team members who take ownership and accountability for the work.

The good news about always-right individuals: There is hope. These executives can learn to maximize their leadership impact and enhance their executive influence – benefitting both professionally and personally – by embracing one simple truth:

"The man who thinks he knows, does not yet know as he ought to know.”

-Paul of Tarsus

When leaders understand what they don’t know and realize they don’t always know the right thing to do and that they don’t always have the right answer, then they will depend on others for wisdom, perspective, and skill. When this happens, these leaders will nurture and promote the talents of others, which predictably will result in more engaged team members and employees capable of achieving results exponentially greater than the individual power of one. I know this to be true – I learned it the hard way.


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