What I write about today is the death of probative value. Once upon a time, we would research, think, contemplate, all resulting in the formation of an opinion. Those opinions are colored and deepened by real-life experiences. As one moves up the organizational ladder, we are called upon to take positions and frame policies. After all, leaders must lead! They say an effective leader’s job is not to “stand and applaud,” but rather “challenge and probe.” Those having to face executives, directors, professors, knew they had to prepare lest they be unarmed for the defense. This expectation and the welcomed challenge are what made for great leaders, students, organizations, and even our country.
However, today I observed the death of this probative value for to dare challenge someone you run the risk of the legitimate challenge being deflected. Does anyone even with a legitimate challenge wish to run the risk of being labeled as unfair, racist, misogynistic, or any of the dozens of other current hot buttons. Yes, indeed, there are those who very much deserve the aforementioned labels, but they are the minority and of late are getting their just due in the well-televised court proceedings. However, to arrive every day as a coiled spring waiting to be “wronged” so you can launch, results in going through life devoid of the give and take of being challenged, which in turn makes one better. Come with me and see the reaction of the students given anything other than a grade of “A”! These are graduate students and many are hearing “no” for the first time in their 27 – 30 years of life. Or the young work colleague at age 30 and not yet the CEO…I have a relative that every election takes great pride in canceling out my vote. When I attempt to challenge the thought process or logic, neither exists. The sole criteria is “gotcha.” By the same token, I have a golf buddy that also cancels out my vote. I don’t agree with his choice, but he can intellectually defend and debate his position. For that, I must respect as he is after all prepared.
This process starts in elementary school, where state and administrative policies place more and more expectation on the teacher, yet at the same time ties their hands. They cannot confront, challenge, discipline, or even fail a student. In the administrator’s office, where you don’t face the students, it always works on paper! There is an old adage that says, “The further your seats are from the field, the easier the game is.” Any advice that begins with the words: just tell the customer…, or just tell the employee…, are advice typically from those who never stand before the audience. Have we all not experienced someone approaching you saying I want to bounce something off of you for your input only to later realize they didn’t want your input at all? What they saw was a captive audience who were expected to respond with the anticipated “that was brilliant.” Just take a look at the protests and social unrest throughout our nation. When challenged by a reporter, interviewer, or even the opposition isn’t it remarkable how many can’t even articulate what specifically they are protesting.
Yes, applaud, recognize, and encourage a legitimate effort on a job well done however don’t feel that is your sole responsibility. You must lead, as there is nothing more frustrating than seeing someone put in a position of leadership only to have them not. Leadership is at times very much a contact sport but that contact is the challenging of someone’s ideas or conclusions. As society became all consumed with the P.C. agenda, it has framed a new “true north” for organizations. That new “norm” has us mitigating or eliminating “challenge.” One of the last vestiges of an intellectual challenge was the college classroom yet that too has yielded to the absence of the challenge. We are creating a society that need not prepare deeply as the probability of a probative challenge is increasingly unlikely. The result is many are going through life confusing their opinion for intellect. Now all of you leaders go forth and challenge. Above all, do not abandon the skill of “challenging” for, in the end, it makes for a better country, industry, and supply of future leaders.
“Be able to defend your arguments in a rational way. Otherwise, all you have is an opinion.” — Marilyn vos Savant