Ep 145: The Right Answer — The Thief of Choice
Many people look up to leaders for the right answers, creating that pressure to provide what is expected and do it well consistently. But humans as we are, it isn’t easy to always be right and correct. In this episode, Adam Quiney talks solely about the idea of the right answer and getting the right answer. Why is the right answer the thief of choice and the ultimate thief of leadership? What is the right answer in the first place? Why does knowing the right answer matter as a leader? What do you do to find the right answer? Adam Quiney answers these questions and more. Follow along to find out.
Listen to the Episode Here:
The Right Answer — The Thief of Choice
This episode is solely about the idea of the right answer – getting the right answer, why the right answer is the thief of choice and the ultimate thief of leadership. So, what is the right answer? Why is it a challenge for leaders? Why does it matter to know about the right answer as a leader? What do you do about finding the right answer? These questions will be answered and explained in this episode.
We’re going to be talking about the right answer, getting the right answer. How do you get the right answer? Why the right answers the thief of choice and the thief of leadership? Isn’t that interesting? Before we start, I want to put in a special mention to the Creating Clients Course. This is a ten-week course I created specifically for coaches. If your realm is a leader, this may be of less interest to you, but for those in the coaching profession, this is a ten-week course where we break apart the false dichotomy. There’s this distinction prevalent everywhere that selling what you do is different from the thing you love to do. We spend all this time on how do I minimize my time selling what I do, so I can spend as much time on the stuff that I love to do. From that false distinction, it forever remains true. We create all the strategies around avoiding the thing that we don’t like. That eliminates the ability for us to recreate it and see the opportunity, the possibility available that there’s no distinction.
The Creating Clients is every bit the same thing as the beautiful work and art of coaching. We shred that. We pull that apart and then we build up a foundation to support people in the creation of clients as about being simply you showing up in the world, fully expressed and deepening relationship with people. It’s a tremendous course. It’s truly transformational. It is ten weeks in duration. If that interests you, you can check out more at AdamQuiney.com/ClientCreation. It’s got a low level of commitment to the $1,000 and it will change your life. I promise.
Right Versus Wrong
Let’s get to the right answer. The first thing I want to do is lay out this idea of a particular lens or context that we typically look through in society, which is right versus wrong. Right is good, wrong is bad. This lens is incredibly prevalent, mostly because it’s enforced and built into the way we are raised right from a very young age. When you get rewarded for doing something, that is the right thing to have done. When you get punished for doing something, that is the wrong thing to have done.
It’s important to note that these concepts exist in a made-up world. I’m not saying that your parents didn’t have a rule for what is right and wrong. You can reference that. I’m saying that if you look at nature, there’s no right way for a lizard in the wild to be. It simply shows up. It does stuff that ensures to survive and passes genes on. That’s not right, any more than anything else. That’s what allows its genes to survive. That’s different from this notion in quotes of right. That’s the right thing to do. We, as humans, have a whole whack load of stuff that we’ve put into these categories as though they’re real. It’s right not to talk to strangers on the bus. It’s wrong to tell a lie. We go about categorizing so much of our life into right versus wrong. It gets us into trouble when it comes to stepping into leadership. We’ll talk more about that in a bit.
From this initial foundation, there are a couple of things we try to do. One is we attempt to be right. I want to get the right answer. How do I attempt to be right? I might do a bunch of research. I might pause or stall or seek out an expert and try to figure out the answer from them so I can ensure I don’t make a mistake. A lot of impostor syndrome is based on the notion that there’s a right way for you to be and who you are now is not that. If you look at impostor syndrome, it’s the story like, “I should already have all the answers.” How do I compensate for the fact that it’s wrong, that I don’t already have the answers?
Natural, the thing that shatters impostor syndrome and completely splits a wide open is simply being courageous enough to own that you don’t have all the answers. If you can stand in that truth without needing to change it or fix it or do anything about it, you’ll discover very quickly that people move on from it. You’re like, “Great. I don’t have to hide that anymore.” If you’re willing to own your truth, there’s nothing to be an impostor about. Rather than becoming this thing you have to solve, which then worsens the problem you have to solve further, it all dissolves and falls away.
We have all these attempts to be right. We have the flip side, which is attempting not to be wrong. How do I ensure I’m not wrong? I point the finger. I point blame over there. I’ll explain why this wasn’t my fault or why I did this because you told me to or I was following someone else’s direction. An effective way not to be wrong is I don’t take action. If I’m in a culture where it is better to not be wrong than to be right, meaning I’m better off not doing the wrong thing than making a mistake by moving things forward. You will have a culture that tends to be very slow-moving and largely locked in place.
It’s hard to move forward. You could argue that the political system is based on this. First of all, it’s couched inside the story of right and wrong. Second, so much of it is about like don’t make a mistake. Don’t do the stupid thing. Don’t make a mistake because you’ll get voted out. The end. You die, politically speaking. There is much less attention put on creating any radical stuff that would move things forward and create a big impact and much more attention put on not being wrong.
We live a lot of our lives inside this lens. If you can’t be right, the next best thing is to not be wrong. Those are as good as it gets. If I blame that other person, at least I’m not the one that’s wrong and pass the buck. We try not to be wrong because we don’t want to look stupid. We don’t want to be called out. We don’t want to make mistakes. We don’t want to make a decision we’ll regret. These are all versions of being wrong. I need to think about this because you don’t want to make the wrong choice. What is the wrong choice? You can probably come up with some answers for that. I want you to get that these are made-up concepts. All of this is about attempting to avoid risk. Why are we talking about this? What is it about this notion of right and wrong that is challenging? Why would you even shift it?
Why is right and wrong thinking so sticky? The first one is that there’s a real benefit to having the right answer. This makes something sticky when there’s a payoff. Finding the right answer works. It’s worked up to this point in the past. If it worked yesterday, then it’s going to work tomorrow. I don’t have to think too much. I don’t have to deal with the fear of what people might think about me if I don’t get it right. It’s hard to argue with what is considered right. If a leader has a number of choices on the table, one is a radically new direction, and the other’s a direction that’s worked the last three weeks, but they’re sure, in the long term, it’s going to burn out.
The third answer is the wrong answer. We’re not going to do wrong, but that radical direction puts them at risk of failing. Whereas the right answer, even though it doesn’t create the long term results they want, short term, they know they’ve got something they can rely on. If things don’t work out well, they’ve got a safety net. “I did what worked three weeks running. It’s not my fault.” Rather than leadership at this point, being about me expanding into what’s new, leaning into the unknown, and making the accompanying mistakes as I grow and create something new outside of what’s predictable, rather than any of that, leadership becomes about not making mistakes. It becomes about doing the right thing and covering my ass with this notion of the right answer.
Finally, it’s so sticky because our society tends to be structured this way. We’re trained into a lens of right and wrong right from the very beginning. From our parents raising us to going to school and having to have the right answer for simple things like math, what is the right answer to 9 x 8? It is 72. I know that because it was drilled into my head. I did math problems all day long in grade 4 and grade 5. I would get a butterscotch candy if I did them faster than anyone else. I’ve earned a lot of butterscotch candies for something simple like a math table, the right or wrong answer thing makes sense. Once we get into the realm of leadership, we’re transcending this simplicity. The trouble is that our thinking is mired in that old way of thinking. It served to get us here, but because it served us so well in the past, we can’t seem to let it go to create what’s next. That’s where a lot of leadership falls down. It gets stuck in the old way of thinking. The heart, the fundamental context of that old way of thinking is right versus wrong.
Right And Wrong Thinking In Leadership
Let’s talk about now how this lens contrasts with what leadership is about. The thing about the right answer is that it creates strategy dogma and always on choice. What I mean is, if there is a right answer, then we stop looking at what is showing up at the moment through the lens of what’s called for at this moment. We stopped bringing what the Zen practitioners would call The Beginner’s Mind. Instead, we show up to this thing. We say, “I’ve seen this before, and the right answer is this.” This is why so many businesses failed to innovate and to grow because they are continually doing the right answer. The right answer is ultimately the answer the last time the question was asked. We get locked into this idea of a right answer, dogma, always on. If there is a right answer somewhere to whatever question you have, to whatever situation you’re presented with, there is no flexibility or intimacy with the moment or in the moment. There is only figure out the right answer.
This is important because leadership is intimacy, in the sense that real leadership requires us to be with and flowing with the moment. The attachment to the right answer blinds us to that capacity. It takes away our ability to feel into that moment, to get a sense of like, “What’s going on here?” As soon as we see that, “Here’s one thing, I already know the right answer. I don’t have to think any further.” It lets us off the hook on a number of levels. It lets us off the hook in the sense that, “I don’t have to be with something that might be uncomfortable. I don’t have to be with my discomfort of not having a readily available answer. I don’t have to be with my fears and the potential risk of getting it wrong.”
The last thing is through that lens of right and wrong. It prevents me from receiving whatever there is there to be received. If someone shows up, they haven’t done their work for the last two weeks, they’ve missed a deadline two weeks running, the right thing to do is in my handbook, or it’s in my mind, or the way people have treated me in this company, or what I’ve done in the past. I’d be like, “They’ve missed two deadlines. The right thing to do is to berate them at this point and write them up.” What if the reason that they’re not meeting that deadline is something like they’re afraid? They wanted to do it so well that they’re getting perfectionistic. They’re getting paralyzed. It’s not a lack of commitment or dedication on their part. It’s an over-compensation. They’re almost too committed, too dedicated. They need to release that. They need to be willing to have things go a certain way.
Choice: Fundamentals Of Business Leadership
My dogmatic application of the right answer, which is to write them up, is going to step entirely over that. All of the opportunity for leadership for developing this person, for drawing out what’s there, is completely missed. Here’s the real fundamental issue. Fundamentally, the fundamentals of business, leadership is ultimately about choice. The ability of the leader to do and be whatever is required at the moment to move things forward from the moment.
Werner Erhard, when he speaks and lectures on leadership, talks about spinning on the floor as a leader. He says, “There are times when what might be called from you as a leader is to spit on the floor.” Some people will immediately argue, “No, there’s never a time for that.” Who are you to say that? Have you been able to craft every single scenario ever created where leadership might be manifested and deduce that never is there a time? The world is abundant, as is the opportunity to practice leadership. A leader who fully is able to show up, embrace and be a leader in each and every moment has maximal access to their range.
It’s the ability to feel into the moment, to distinguish what’s going to serve, to do and be that, free of their stories about what is right and wrong. Most of us, certainly here in North America, hold that spitting on the floor is wrong, aggressive and you would never do that. If we’ve decided that it’s wrong, that action, that way of showing up is no longer available to us. What that means is when there is a right answer or there is a wrong thing that we certainly won’t do, there isn’t a choice. You have to decide or figure out what the right answer is, rather than choosing something.
It’s important here that we distinguish between a decision and a choice. A decision can simply be like, “I’ve got two things. I have to decide.” How I’m going to decide? I’m going to figure out the right decision. This is where most of us live our life from. I could go this route, which means I would get a car. I would have the nicer car, but I’d be paying an extra $100 a month, or I could go this rate, which would be $100 all in. That is my money. This is what is reasonable. That is the right choice. The real choice is when all the options, or at least the vast majority of options, are totally available to you. There is no right way. There are simply consequences of each choice and benefits of each choice. I don’t let an algorithm choose for me, which is what’s happening when we’re making the right choice. I’d be fully present with the options, consequences, benefits and then I make a choice. I empower that choice. I go along with all of what comes with that particular choice. That is the power of choosing as a leader.
The vast majority of the time, we do not choose this way. We try to make decisions by putting our choice over on something else. Be it an algorithm, a script, a set of rules, the way it went in the past, yesterday’s weather, etc. Why does this matter as a leader? On the personal level, your ability to be at choice as a leader is paramount. That is almost entirely what it is to be a leader. The right decision is the thief of your choice. You no longer choose as a leader from your heart, intuition and moment. Rather, you choose from the algorithm, the answer, solution, right decision. Leaders that are stuck inside this particular paradigm become fairly impenetrable. They’re unable to receive feedback unless it aligns with what they already know to be right.
You can bring feedback to a leader like this and be like, “I’ve got some feedback for you.” You’re going to give it to them. You’re going to notice their head looks like they’re receiving it, but what they’re doing is filtering it through the lens of, “Is this feedback right or is this feedback wrong?” Another way of wording that, “Do I agree with this feedback or do I disagree with that?” That is not receiving feedback. What that does is ensure that the only thing that gets into the leadership, the only thing that can impact the leader, is that which deemed to be right or, to put it differently, that which the leader already agrees with. That ensures the leader will receive feedback that’s aligned with what they know and have decided, but nothing beyond that. It has a discouraging and disillusioning impact on your team. Your team concludes, “I guess there’s no point in bringing this person something unless they’ve already decided themselves.” You become fairly impactable as a leader. That’s going to lead to a team the same way a team that gives up. They become resigned. Rather than choose and have all your options open, you are limited by the options that have fit inside some preconceived category of right, as opposed to wrong.
With your teams, the first problem is an inability to truly listen to them. Instead of hearing stuff fresh with that beginner’s mind, you’re listening through that lens of, “Do I agree with this or do I not?” Is this right? It is a very different question to listen from than what is here right now. The second real issue is an inability to receive feedback from your team since all it gets filtered through the lens of whether or not you agree or feel they’re right. The staff are left only able to truly be gotten by you, not listened to, but heard, understood and felt. They’re only able to truly be gone with the stuff that already aligns with where you are at.
If what they’re bringing is something you are on board with, amazing, that’s going to be great. Everything else is going to fall on deaf ears. You will go through the motions. You will listen, but it’s going to bump into the barrier called wrong and fall short. You can’t fake that impact no matter how hard you try. The overall impact is that your staff are left disillusioned and disenfranchised. What’s the point? You get a team that when they align with you on what is right, amazing. You end up surrounding yourself with people that buy into the same degree of right and wrong as you do. You will not get a team that is able to create something beyond that limiting lens of what is right and what is wrong. You will forever be stuck inside what is in that category.
What Leaders Need To Do
What do you do about this? The first thing is to take on noticing this lens. Notice the pervasiveness of right and wrong in your own life. You can do this by asking yourself, “What are the ways I look for the right answer?” Some of the ways this sounds is like, “I want to make a decision I won’t regret,” consider that regret is entirely your choice. I know people that have gone to school and gotten a degree they never use. They’re filled with regret about it. I know other people who have done the same thing, find themselves in a very similar place in their life and are so grateful for that time in university. There was nothing different in the circumstances of these two people’s lives. It is entirely an inside thing. It is not necessarily a curse but a choice. The one person is relating to that thing with regret. The other person is not. There is no right answer that will leave you not feeling regretful. That is your choice to make as you go forward into your life.
Another way this can sound is, “I’m trying to figure out what I should do.” Should is an indication that there’s a right answer. I wish someone would tell me what to do. Right answer, someone will tell it to me. I need to do this. That’s often another should. You don’t have choice. You just need to. Notice where your lens for that right answer shows up. When we have a right answer, we don’t have a choice. What protects or saves you from? If you’re making the right answer, the correct decision, what does that get you off the hook from? What is safe about that? You can practice separating the right answer from what you want to choose, so distinguish those two. Notice the places where your intuition would guide you in a different direction from the right answer. You don’t have to do anything about that. My invitation is simply to have you notice that these two things are not the same. If you can start to hear the voice of your intuition in tandem with the right answer, that’s going to start to let you notice all of these two things aren’t exactly the same. That’s going to give you a bit of capacity to start to see this lens a little bit more.
Finally, you can practice choosing outside of what is right and see what happens. You can choose from what you want. You could choose from what would open up everyone in this conversation. You could choose from what would the spirit do? You can choose from what would create the greatest degree of laughter. These are all different places to choose from what would be the right thing to do, all different lenses. Like any particular lens from which to choose, they’re going to have different benefits and consequences. My invitation is to choose when to practice with it, rather than sitting and thinking, “I don’t want to do it from that one because then that’s going to create this.” That’s going to keep you inside of the existing hamster wheel.
That is the end of our episode. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. As always, we relish your feedback. If you have anything for us, email us at GetLit@AdamQuiney.com. I always appreciate hearing from you. It makes this endeavor of doing a show so much less lonely, more fun. It’s nice to hear from people that are having an impact on your life. What we’ve got coming up is The Art of Developing Accountability in Your People. This is not the same thing as holding people accountable. When you hold people accountable, you take away their leadership. You create them as a follower who is reliant on you to hold them accountable. The next episode will be about The Art of Developing Accountability in your people so that when you leave, they remain every bit as accountable to themselves as when you were there. That’s it. Have a great week. We’ll catch you next time.
About Adam Quiney
I’m an obsessive perfectionist, high-performer, former lawyer, and now an Executive Mentor. I know what it’s like to succeed easily and quickly. To blindly put my happiness in the hands of achievement.
All the success, money and possessions in the world couldn’t cure my boredom. Couldn’t produce a loving, intimate relationship with my wife…and definitely couldn’t fulfill me.