Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Groupthink Is Bad Business

Yesterday I posted some comments about the perils of groupthink. I would add that people who only associate with those who think as they do are demonstrating a form of narcissism. And narcissists are poor leaders. On the job and in life.

Narcissists attract suck-ups and sycophants. Good leaders attract colleagues and teammates.

Obviously, narcissism is also bad for business. Witness an excellent article by John Baldoni, entitled: "Hire People Who Disagree With You." Link here.

An executive who surrounds himself with people who think the same thing will be less effective than his competitor who encourages differences of opinion.

Baldoni found leaders who invited open discussion in the military. He noted that Gen. Ray Odierno, the operational commander of American forces in Iraq, hired a British pacifist named Emma Sky as an adviser.

Sky wants to get American troops out of Iraq. Odierno hired her because he wanted his senior officers to hear a "civilian sensibility" and "oppositional views."

Hiring people who disagree with you is an antidote for arrogance. As Baldoni put it, leaders who do so are: "smart enough to realize that they do not have all the answers."

As in life outside the military and even outside of the business world, engaging in free and open debate with people who disagree with you will make you a more effective problem-solver.

Leadership does not involve giving orders and forcing people to do as you wish. It involves negotiating among different points of view, most of which will have something to recommend them.

Baldoni makes an important distinction: "Hiring someone who is opposed to your ideas is not the same as hiring someone who is opposed to you. The former is a good thing; the latter is a threat. The latter will disrupt the team in order to achieve his personal ambitions at your expense."

It is one thing to differ on policy or even to offer a different perspective on the effectiveness of the policy. It is quite another to defy the leader after he has set the policy.

The same principles apply to other areas of your life. If you accept or reject people as friends based on their political ideology, you are depriving yourself of information that might be useful in conducting your life. And you are also depriving yourself of the opportunity to clarify your positions through debate... to say nothing of changing your mind.

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