Great leaders often change their minds

A person holding two different ideas
Illustration by undraw.co

The 2020 pandemic has forced us to reevaluate how we think about offices and collaboration. Consequently, many CEOs have decided to transition to remote work to embrace this new uncertain world.

As a leader, changing your mind has always been perceived as a weakness. It’s simply outdated. It won’t make you come across as spineless.

The world is becoming more unpredictable, and the pace in the tech industry has never been so fast. To survive and thrive, leaders must constantly rethink and reevaluate their plans. Persuasion and influence are essential leadership skills, but being persuadable is also critical.

Why does being persuadable matter?

One of the key reasons is that you might simply be wrong. It all comes down to picking the right idea to solve a customer problem in the end. It’s not about being right.

If you’ve been in the tech industry long enough, you also noticed that companies mainly build the wrong outputs. Otherwise, every company would be successful.

We’ve all been there. Implementing the wrong solution. Not removing underused features. Ending up with a “swiss army knife” product that tries to do too many things at once.

I believe most of it could be avoided if leaders were more willing to change their minds after listening to their colleagues or customers.

How to start being persuadable

As a tech person, one thing that helped me is to see beliefs as a live product: they need constant incremental updates.

To update your beliefs, you need to actively seek feedback and use empathy to understand other people’s perspectives. Always keep in mind that you might be correct, but you could also be wrong.

If you realize that you should change your mind during a conversation, don’t see it as getting defeated. Instead, switch your mindset from “I’m wrong” to “the idea is wrong” — It’s about a thing you produced, not you and your personality.

Embrace being persuadable as a success. You should fight for the best ideas, not only yours. Ultimately, your colleagues and customers will benefit from it.

When you’re unsure about changing your mind, experimentation is helpful. Updating your beliefs based on evidence is always better than gut feeling.

You could also ask yourself: “Am I fighting for my customers, my company, or myself?”

Reconsidering your opinion is excellent, but doing it too often can lead to confusion. You want to avoid being too persuadable. Success won’t be measured by the number of times you changed your mind but by producing customer value.

Build a culture of feedback and challenge

Your organization will shine when everyone becomes persuadable and when challenging people’s opinions will be celebrated, not criticized.

Sadly, we can’t simply ask people to start giving feedback or challenge stakeholders. The reality is that people won’t do it until they feel comfortable and safe.

To enable these behaviors:

  • State the desired behavior (feedback, challenge ideas and stakeholders, healthy debates…)
  • Use positive reinforcement when these efforts are witnessed.
  • Coach people to eliminate defensiveness or aggressivity during debates.
  • Walk the talk.

I can’t emphasize enough how positive reinforcement is the most powerful leadership tool to build a great culture. Catch people doing something right and let them know how great it was for the company.

As we approach a new post-pandemic world, people will have unique desires when it comes to collaboration. Customers will have new expectations. Changing your mind and adapting to an unpredictable world has never been so crucial. Be a great leader, be persuadable!

I write about design leadership, management, career, and user experience. If you liked this article, check out my blog!

Design leadership @ Shopify. Previously @Riotgames. I write about design leadership, product design strategy, and UX career. https://stephaneondesign.com/blog/