By Uju Onwuzulike Chief Results Officer, MCL

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function”
-- F. Scott Fitzgerald

The current economic challenges have left CEOs and senior management with no choice than to review their personal traits by which they have worked with in the time past. This is very important now more than ever given that what brought results in our organizations or for the CEO in the time past, may not bring results anymore.

Speaking with leaders during my executive managements programs, one will easily decipher how uneasy most leaders are when it comes to receiving “opposing views” from the lower rungs of the hierarchy. And this is why most CEOs and managers of people often find it difficult to gather candid advice from their people as they have been made to always tell the CEOs what they want to hear and not what will make a difference and ultimately stir a turnaround for the organization. In the area of not telling the CEO the truth, my insight titled “The CEO Without a Cloth” threw more light.

The unusual trait every CEO and senior management should have in this challenging times that will set him or her apart is “the ability to hold contradictions”. This means, having an uncanny predisposition, ability or capacity to hold in their heads two opposing views or ideas at once without hounding anyone. I deliberately referred to it as an unusual trait, because many CEOs and senior management are not used to having people hold contrary views or oppose their views and ideas. They often see it to mean that their powers, expertise and intelligence are being undermined and not recognized. Come to think of it, CEOs are hardly told the truth even when they genuinely request for one, let alone getting them to see that their views and ideas are not seen to be superlative.

As the Chief Results Officer of my company, I have been known to be a proponent of “don’t tell me what I said makes sense, rather, what do you have to say? So, with this my associates at work will always come with their views and most times opposing or contrary views, but I have the large heart to accommodate all their views. Years back, I remember asking someone a question during a retreat I was doing for an Oil and Gas company, and a young man said, “I support what my MD has just said”. I insisted he comes up with his own thought (original idea), lo and behold; his views brought a turn around to the company. This is exactly what I am talking about. But guess what, with that culture, everyone sees him or herself as a superstar. No CEO, executive, or manager will be a superstar without employees that are superstars. And one of the ways to make them superstars is to allow them to come up with their ideas and often opposing views on how best to make things work. Few weeks back, I had a discussion with a newly appointed CEO in Nigeria, and I deliberately said to him, you are not made the CEO because you are the smartest or brightest. And that applies to every CEO or senior management. Having that in mind that you were not chosen because you were the smartest goes a long way to tell us that smartest ideas reside in everyone. Of a truth, CEOs and managers of any kind should be adept in harvesting their peoples’ ideas and views. Yes, I understand in the time past we have been told to categorize people’s views or ideas to be bad or good, and as such we have been used to hold just one idea or view. Then anyone that goes outside what we believe or our way of think is termed contradictory or at worse opposing. I quickly told him to hold dear those that will always tell him views that are quite different from his.

As a leader or CEO, you have already known what you know. And chances are that what you know might not be enough to drive your organization to the desired destination. Interestingly, what others know are also required. So go out there and encourage your people to come with their views and you will see amazing wonders. During meetings, tell your people that you are the CEO but not the custodian of wisdom and that way encourage them to be free and always come up with ideas and suggestions that will give your company a competitive edge.

In the age and time, what will stand a leader or manager out is his or her ability to creatively resolve the apprehension between two or more opposing ideas or views by bringing about a new one that contains elements of the others but is superior to all the views. These kinds of leaders or CEOs know that everyone views in their organization matter so much, and having seen that believe, employees are ready to come with all kinds of views that can transform the organization. In difficult times (and any other times), the CEO must be weary of the apple shining sycophants who want to appear loyal out of their selfish reasons and would never have a mind of their own. Final notes:

One of your roles as a CEO, leader or manager is the ability to harvest opposing ideas or views from your people and ultimately come up with something that can make a difference for your company. Create a culture that will inform employees that every idea or opposing view is worth paying attention to and when the temptation comes to drop other people’s views that we don’t like, let us ask ourselves: Is it what we like or what the organization wants?