Lead and Grow by Inviting Differing Points of View

A friend of ours is on the board of an organization that prides itself on unanimity in decision-making. The culture of the organization is bent toward avoiding conflict, so much so that fear of conflict stifles authentic conversation. Have you ever been involved in such a culture? I grew up in one. The myth of such a culture is that differing points of view must result in conflict and hurt feelings. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be so.

Frida Ghitis, commentator for CNN, says, “It would do all of us much good to listen to the people with whom we disagree, not for the purpose of arguing with them, shouting them down and proving them wrong, but to deliberately listen to a different point of view, one that might widen our horizons and perhaps open our minds just a bit. How risky does it sound to follow people with different views on Twitter, watch a newscast from a different network, talk to someone from “the other” party — and to do it while bearing in mind that nobody has all the answers?”

As an employer, inviting differing points of view can sometimes feel risky in the workplace. What if an employee expresses an opinion you can’t support? What if workers develop a sense of entitlement when given the freedom to be heard? These are valid fears and possible outcomes, depending upon how you welcome and manage the input you receive. Allowing the boat to be rocked can create far-reaching ripples that affect the entire organization.

But the danger of sticking your head in the sand should be feared even more. In a recent interview with Success Magazine, MaryAnne Gilmartin talks about what she calls the Blue Paint problem. As the CEO of Forest City Ratner Cos., a premier New York real estate developer, when Gilmartin happens to mention to her team that she likes the color blue, suddenly, all she will be presented with are blue options! “People will tell you what they think you want to hear,” she says. “That’s bad. You want your people to challenge you; friction creates light. You have to learn how to elicit opinions before offering your own–or even better, to keep your opinions to yourself until you’ve heard everyone else.”

Rober Moritz, U.S. Chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers, agrees. He asserts that to create the kind of workforce we need in the 21century, we need diversity. “We’re all different. I grew up in a small town in upstate New York and was the first in my family to go to college. I bring a different perspective to the boardroom from many of my colleagues. We all do. Diversity yields innovation.”

Do you want to be an agent of growth and change within your organization? Then put aside your fear of the unknown. As a leader who has only one set of eyes and ears, you must make inviting differing points of view a part of your daily culture. The cost of not rocking the boat is the absence of any meaningful discussion that could lead to real change.

Trying to decide how much to pay your next employee? Consider this.

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