I encountered a really powerful concept that has implications for visionary leadership. When reading Stanford University professor Bob Sutton’s “Work Matters” Blog, I was floored by the simplicity of the idea of “strong opinions, held weakly.” This idea contends that one must possess strong opinions in order to generate compelling and convincing arguments in favor of that opinion. Without this conviction, one will not have the motivation to dig deeply and flesh out the arguments. Conversely, Sutton contends that these positions must be held weakly. Why? Well, if one’s position is too firmly entrenched, it raises the possibility that he may become deaf to alternate ideas and information.
Why is this important for visionary leadership? Leaders must be prepared to present opinions in the strongest possible light. To do this, the leader must develop compelling and defensible positions that will influence followers. However, holding the opinion weakly allows the leader to examine situations, information, and trends that may validate the present course or necessitate conscience-directed change. By conscience-directed change I mean leaders making decisions based upon what is right, moral and most prudent for the situation.
History is replete with examples of leaders staying the course in the face of contradictory evidence or experience. The leaders of Enron maintained the status quo regardng their business practices when all evidence pointed to the fact that the business model was not sustainable. Had they had the courage to face the situation head-on and make conscience-directed changes, history might tell a different story. However, we all know how the story ends.
Are any of your opinions so strong that you are willing to hold them to the bitter end? Do you have the courage to make conscience-directed changes? Just some questions to ponder.