Very Strong Opinions, Very Weakly Held12 Mar 2009
You know, I wasn’t always in a management position at Viewpoint.
Shocking, but true.
I am, as I type, actually in charge of people, they report to me! I am all-powerful over my minions!
::insert evil laugh here, maybe a thunderclap in the background…a few streaks of lightning…::
BOW BEFORE ME, MINIONS, AND DO MY BIDDING!
This style of management, the ‘cartoonish evil dictator’ works for very few companies and people. I am not at one of those companies nor am I one of those people.
I fancy myself a leader…I’ve been captain of my fair share of hockey teams, editor of my high school newspaper…
::Although to be fair, to those who knew me back then, the newspaper was turned into my own personal opinion page where me and my ‘editorial board’ would rant and rave about the school. It was my hypothesis no one was reading the paper when I took the reins. I then theorized we could print almost anything and not get a rise out of the student body, and in the process have some fun by printing outrageous opinion pieces where we could practice our comedic chops. In the end, we created a very interesting dialog between the different grade levels that was not only fun to write, but actually had people reading the paper again. I digress…::
…and I’ve lead a few group projects in my time. I’ve also coached college hockey for a few years, http://rso.cornell.edu/clubhockey/history.htm, so I’ve been in positions of power before, but before becoming a manager at Viewpoint I never held a position of power in a professional environment.
Through all of these positions I felt, subconsciously, I had worked out a ‘management style’, but consciously I don’t think I could explain it to myself. As I moved into my new position I felt it was high time to figure out exactly how I had led and managed in the past, and figure out how to explain it to others.
One might ask, “Why bother explaining yourself? Just get out there and manage like you have in the past…the people you manage will either get it or they won’t.”
I argue they might get it. People, given enough time, might figure you out, and how you work.
But why make people go through all of that work? Why would you want to make people ‘figure the riddle of you’ out? Why not just tell people what you expect of them and how you are going to manage them? Why not make it a day one ritual when someone joins your team to let him or her in on your expectations and your management style?
“Hey Johnson welcome to the team! I’m going to expect X, Y, and Z from you and you can expect me to manage you using the ::blank:: technique.”
It took me a while to search back through my previous leadership and management positions to find a common thread of techniques that worked. In my search I found all of the usual techniques, you know the techniques that one would find in any given management book…be a clear communicator, set expectations, yadda, yadda, yadda. Basically, one will find quite a few common threads between a given set of management books since each one of these threads all work to differing degrees.
Check out the bookstore in the airport next time you fly, if you doubt me. Airport bookstores have to have the single highest concentration of management books in the known universe, and they are all almost interchangeable.
It actually wasn’t until I read a post by Jeff Atwood (http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/001124.html) that pointed to a post by Bob Sutton (http://bobsutton.typepad.com/my_weblog/2006/07/strong_opinions.html) where I was able to pull everything together for me:
I have very strong opinions that are very weakly held.
I am now able to tell people on day one when they join my team, “Johnson just so you know when we start working together I have very strong opinions that are very weakly held.” During our day one introductions I can clear up many potential misunderstandings between Johnson and myself with this one statement. I normally go onto explain as Bob Sutton does:
- I have found when you have a strong opinion people are willing to challenge you, do their research, and invest themselves into their counter position. A weak opinion does not inspire anyone to bother...why bother putting in all that effort to fully form a counter argument if you can change someone’s mind with minimal work? What if that minimal work doesn’t undercover the flaw in your own argument? The opportunity for discourse back and forth is lost when you hold a weak opinion.
- I say my opinions are weakly held so that I may change my position when I am presented with a different point of view. It also means I’m willing to listen to the other side, and I’m open to discourse about the opinion. A strong opinion strongly held is just as bad as a week opinion, no one will bother challenging someone if they know at the end of the day no matter what they say nothing is going to change.
Take for example Rush Limbaugh…if you’ve flipped around the AM dial at all in the past few years I’m sure you’ve heard him one or two times. I am not fan, I made up my mind about his radio show a while ago from the little bit of his show that I heard. I decided it just wasn’t for me. However, what I did hear was someone who had very strong opinions that were very strongly held. If all of my opinions were counter to Rush’s, and I had all the time in the world to attempt to change his opinions I don’t think I could do it. All the political discourse in the world with Rush would not change his mind on any one political topic. In my opinion, I believe he is set in his ways, and any attempt to change his views would be a very difficult task. Would you be up for it?
I know I’m not because my political views are very weakly held. Yes, I have some political views, but I don’t hold them strongly enough to take on Rush and try to change his mind.
In this scenario, my weak opinions weakly held going up against someone who has very strong opinions very strongly held doesn’t provide much opportunity for discussion and explorations of any topics. The discussion would likely go nowhere and accomplish nothing.
Now flip the tables, I have very strong opinions on why someone might buy a Mac laptop over a PC. However, I also know that Macs do not fit everyone’s needs and I’m open to discussion on what may work for someone or even myself the next time I’m in the market for a new laptop. I have a strong opinion, but I hold the opinion weakly enough that I could talk to someone about different possibilities, and I may even change my mind.
It is this ability to discuss an opinion and possibly change someone’s mind that fosters an environment of innovation, and a comfort level among colleagues where productive work can be accomplished. This is the environment I set out to have within my team.
The results for my team and me have been good. I feel we have very open working relationships where ideas are challenged and discussed knowing that all of the strong opinions are held weakly enough that someone’s mind could be changed. Knowing that others are listening to you is a huge motivator to continue discussions and to come to consensus on any given topic, be it politics or designing software.