Devil’s Advocate For Inaction

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General George S Patton famously told his troops not to dig in, he wanted them to advance, advance, and advance. You cannot advance if you are dug in.

Patton’s idea of not digging in actually translates incredibly well from a leadership perspective, and it is one that I always kept in the back of my mind. When you have an idea, thought, or opinion, don’t dig in. That means do not over-commit to ideas. Keep an open mind, and leave yourself room to maneuver.” Leadership Strategies & Tactics, Jocko Willink.

Months ago I failed to gain buy-in for a process change that could save my company money. We still implemented the change, but I had failed the negotiation of getting the implementer bought into the idea. It seemed like a fairly straight-forward change, but we kept returning to the other party playing “devil’s advocate” and offering situations where this could potentially go wrong. Of course, change is inevitable – and iterating a process after new information is available is the right thing to do. The problem was that they were over-committed to the idea. 

Lately I have been re-listening to Ego is The Enemy. In it are countless historical examples of leaders who thrived because they were able to keep their ego at bay, and others who were destroyed by it. The common thread in characters who were destroyed by their own ego is an over-commitment to their ideas. 

This has led to a point of reflection for me. Where am I over-committed to an idea? How can I turn that into a strong conviction that is loosely held and adaptable if new information is presented? Where is my “devil’s advocate” leading to inaction?

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