Monday, August 21, 2017

When You’re Convinced You’re Right, You’ve Lost Your Ability to Learn

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

A deep bow to the late great psychologist, John Bradshaw, for the title. Dr Bradshaw, a genuine healer, recognized the corrosive effect of parental self-righteousness on children and families. [Bradshaw On: The Family: A New Way of Creating Solid Self-Esteem]

The philosopher, Eric Hoffer saw self-righteousness as the driving force behind mass movements and fanaticism [The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements]

Self-righteousness is also corrosive to personal growth, and hence to lateral learning in an organization (Yokoten in Japanese). The confident, convinced and unquestioning mind is closed. ‘Been there, done that!’ is its motto.

Self-righteousness is usually caused by hubris, the ancient Greek word for arrogance, and occasionally by fatigue, laziness, and fear. People who are overwhelmed often invent mental shortcuts

What’s this got to do with management systems and leadership?

A strong management system comprises clearly defined end-of-pipe and process goals, visual management, daily huddles that highlight at each level:
  • What’s going well,
  • What’s not going well, and
  • Why

Good leadership is about building a strong management system, and strong people, who can bring it to life. Good leaders try to live the great Paul O’Neill’s mantra:
  • What did we discover is broken today?
  • How did we fix it?
  • How will we share the learning?

In my coaching experience suggests companies and leaders who try to live this way prosper beyond their wildest dreams.

But first we have to recognize the corrosive effect of self-righteousness. We have to cultivate debate, dissent, and a healthy skepticism.

We have to recognize that reality is far bigger than any of us can imagine. We see but a tiny sliver of it, and have no business being self-righteous.

Best regards,


1 comment:

  1. These seem like very wise words, and remind me of the great value of humility (which I often lack!). My mind zeroed in one one sentence, "But first we have to recognize the corrosive effect of self-righteousness. We have to cultivate debate, dissent, and a healthy skepticism."
    My thoughts flowed to the recent firing of a Google engineer for what appeared to be an attempt at "open dialogue" (perhaps misguided). I also thought of debate on social issues like immigration policy, anthropocentric global warming, reducing poverty, and so many more. No matter which "side" one stands on regarding these issues, shouldn't our disposition be to humbly listen to all sides, ask questions, and show respect? It seems that our culture has lost the ability to do that for some reason.