Skepticism in leadership takes on several forms; some are advantageous, and some are detrimental. In its truest sense, skepticism is a logical and rational challenge of ideas to get to the reality or truth about a specific issue. Leaders with such a constructive, critical eye possess a positive strength, especially in a fast-paced environment where many proposals compete.
But this sense of the word has been overridden in today’s culture. Have you noticed it? Within the last generation, the typical impression we have of skepticism pertains to a close-minded, doubtful, and hard-to-convince mentality. I have also seen leaders allow distrust or resentment play into this picture.
This kind of skepticism is damaging in many ways, and stifles organizations. Fortunately there are ways leaders can undo skeptical traits and adopt a better outlook.
Skepticism is often bred out of a fear of failure. A leader can be so concerned about failing that no ideas appear to offer a reasonable level of risk because they are scrutinized so heavily. None will work well enough – the task is too difficult to attempt – the threat of failure looms too large. Have you ever felt like this? You’re not alone.
There isn’t a leader who hasn’t feared the possibility of failure. They’re under constant pressure to produce, succeed, and grow the organization. Though they have this in common, leaders have a choice of how they view potential failure: something to be avoided or an opportunity to improve (and succeed.)
As author Gary Burnison describes in his book, No Fear of Failure (Wiley, 2011), failure happens to everyone, but there can be significant advantages.
“Success may instill confidence, but it is failure that imparts wisdom. With wisdom comes the inner serenity needed to create a bridge between failure and success.”
Failure offers the insight to get better, to shake loose the sense of setback, and grow in the chance to learn key lessons that can’t be learned any other way. Leaders with significant key lesson experiences are the ones who top their competitors.
If a leader sees that all great leaders fail, and failure is not final but is often beneficial, a more positive outlook can be had. And with a positive outlook, a greater openness to ideas can be gained. The habitual rejection of ideas will fade away.
What do you think? Are you skeptical that skepticism can (or should) be defeated? I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me here and on LinkedIn.