is being certain not the right thing to be?

A group of us were chatting over lunch following a mentoring session and one of the group asked me what quality did I think was least desirable in a leader.

The context was that we had earlier been working on polishing leadership strengths and it rather disconcerted my audience when I told the that, for me, the least desirable quality was certainty for, after all, isn’t a driven focus one of leadership’s essentials.

It is, but there is a significant difference between giving off an aura of confidence and having a certainty that there is only one right answer. Leaders do need to be assured for that brings calm and confidence to those that are being led and enables them to move forward themselves with equal confidence.

But a certainty that you are right and everyone else is wrong is not necessarily a good quality for a leader. For a start leaders who think that they alone are right tend not to listen to others and especially not to anyone who dares to bring them evidence that they might be wrong. They tend to plough on regardless until disaster befalls them and their people and even then they will not admit that they might have been wrong.

Good leaders are not certain that they are right, instead they have used their experience and judgement in weighing up the options, risks and rewards and have come to a reasoned decision on the course that they will take. Because they have thought things through they are also aware of the things that they need to watch for that will either confirm that the decision was right or that that need to change tack. Good leaders are always prepared to admit that they got it wrong and are prepared to take corrective action.

If you have a dictionary to hand look up the definition of zealot (you can also try bigot) and in either you will see the signs of unshakeable belief that also characterise a leader who is certain. Being lead by a zealot, or a bigot, is none too desirable to me and I have worked for some over the years.

Another problem with having a leader who is certain is that they will not follow a consensus decision if it does not conform to their ideal. Sometimes in an organisation there will be a team decision that is a close call, for example if five directors vote and the decision is three to two. It may be a narrow vote, but once all of the arguments have been heard the organisation needs to close ranks and get behind the chosen direction if they are to succeed.

If one of the two who voted against is a leader who is certain that they were right they probably will not put their efforts into getting on with supporting the chosen direction; they will be subversive and disruptive and their behaviour will affect their team.

Leaders who are certain that they are right can rarely communicate effectively why they are right; they are dismissive of anyone who questions their belief and scathing of those who do not agree. A leader who has thought things through will enjoy far better support simply because they have sought consensus and been able to persuade others using reason.

Organisational leadership is not democracy; it is more of a dictatorship, but leaders who are certain behave more like despots and the latter are to be avoided. At least that’s how I see it, but, of course, I may be wrong.


Holiday Humour in the Office – The Case of the Missing Desk

Bathchair Theatre presents:

 The Case of the Missing Desk

 (a radio script)




Inspector Carpark, hardbitten, seen it all detective

DS Mills, Carpark’s sidekick

Alice Late, Marketing Director

Bob Down, HR Manager

Anon, Facilities Manager Read more…

“I had no choice; it was me or him”

The quote was on a news item, but it could have been from anywhere in any number of business situations that I have been in over the years. Many of us will have said it too, but it is nonsense because there is a clear choice in the statement; “me or him”. What we really mean is that we took the selfish choice. Read more…

empowerment is not a panacea

“Empower your people” is a commonly heard cry and has been for a few years now, but is it really what you want to do? Read more…

tools only work if you use them well, so let’s stop using annual appraisals

There is no doubt that tools are useful things to have for they can make our lives so much easier, but they have two major drawbacks: Read more…

The return of International Rescue? Maybe not…

Despite the chill of the early Spring day John could feel a bead or two of sweat on his brow as he approached the hotel. He was already beginning to regret having walked to Park Lane from Paddington, but a stroll through to the park had seemed like a good way to fix his mind on what he had to do. Read more…

musings on how the office can survive into the future

There still seems to be a view that we provide buildings; offices, hospitals, warehouses or whatever and that people come to these places to do things there, and in the case of an office there is a view that we no longer need them, that the technology of today makes many jobs independent of a traditional office base. That is true in some cases, but the problem with most of the arguments of that principle is that they treat the building and what goes on in it a separate entities. Read more…


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