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What can we learn about the view that "Everybody's Right?"


"Love your neighbor as yourself."  Jesus Christ (attributed)


Seek first to understand then be understood-- Stephen Covey's 4th Habit.

After reviewing much of the wisdom literature, Covey shortened and simplified what many have been referred to as the Golden Rule.  Do unto others...For the purposes of this discussion of a leadership strategy I would like to focus on a particular aspect of this rule.

As leaders, we are continually put in the position of evaluation.   It seems like it goes with the territory.  Authority always seems interchangeable with hierarchy and leadership often results from hierarchy, for no real clear reason.  It must be said that leadership--at times--would be better served without these vagaries.  With that aside, the job of categorizing, communicating and translating meaning often falls to leadership.  People just look to leadership for that function, no matter if it is proper or predicated.

The concept of everybody's right came out of my own experience in dealing with people in leadership conditions.  Often times, people are dependent on feeling important and one of the ways to cause that condition is for them to feel understood.  Yet, how often can we actually understand someone?  We often are caught up in our own filters--encoding and decoding information into meaning--so much so that we really fail to cross over our own prejudices, even for an instant.  I am suggesting that we can suspend those filters in the short run by taking the position that "everybody's right!"


"Ajmal Hussein and The Scholars"

Sufi Ajmal Hussein was constantly being criticized by scholars, who feared that his repute might outshine their own. They spared no efforts to cast doubts upon his knowledge, to accuse him of taking refuge from their criticisms in mysticism, and even to imply that he had been guilty of discreditable practices.

At length he said:

‘If I answer my critics, they make it the opportunity to bring fresh accusation against me, which people believe because it amuses them to believe such things. If I do not answer them they crow and preen themselves, and people believe that they are real scholars. They imagine that we Sufis oppose scholarship. We do not. But our very existence is a threat to the pretended scholarship of tiny noisy ones. Scholarship long since disappeared. What we have to face now is sham scholarship.’

The scholars shrilled more loudly than ever. At last Ajmal said:

‘Argument is not as effective as demonstration. I shall give you an insight into what these people are like.’

He invited ‘question papers’ from the scholars, to allow them to test his knowledge and ideas. Fifty different professors and academicians sent questionnaires to him. Ajmal answered them all differently. When the scholars met to discuss these papers, at a conference, there were so many versions of what he believed, that each one thought that he had exposed Ajmal, and refused to give up his thesis in favour of any other. The result was the celebrated ‘brawling of the scholars’. For five days they attacked each other bitterly.

‘This,’ said Ajmal, ‘is a demonstration. What matters to each one most is his own opinion and his own interpretation. They care nothing for truth. This is what they do with everyone’s teachings. When he is alive, they torment him. When he dies they become experts on his works. The real motive of the activity, however, is to vie with one another and to oppose anyone outside their own ranks. Do you want to become one of them? Make a choice soon.

From ‘Wisdom of The Idiots' by Idries Shah


"Everybody's Right?"  You got to be kidding?

OF COURSE NOT!  Here is what I am asking you to do.   Stop...and think for a minute what feelings and discomfort I have invoked in you by trying to infect you with this meme...are you in touch with those feelings?  By the mere expression of an idea which is counter-intuitive to our systems, we immediately sense dissonance.

What creates this discord within us? 

It is our own set of "truth-filters" kicking into high gear which emanates from our beliefs and reality models.  These cognitive maps guide us throughout our lives to behave in accordance with what experience has taught us as the "truth."  What the model--everybody's right--attempts to install in your software is a suspension loop which opens up what normally is a closed system--your own reality models--and allows new data to be taken in without prejudice.  This seems complicated and it is.

In order for us to be better leaders, we have to learn to listen--nonjudgmentally. 

 If we kick into our evaluation sequence too quickly, we forget to probe, empathize and deeply understand what is being communicated to us by others.  This "willing" suspension of judgment through the "attitude" that everybody's right is precisely what can provide us with the "moment of understanding." (MOU)  Think for a minute back to the initial time you heard "everybody's right."  What was your reaction?  Did you attempt to remain open with the statement or did you immediately begin justifying why everyone is not right?

The absurdity...everybody's right (ER) is designed to key your mind to this moment of understanding.  This very narrow point in time where you recognize that the greatest need for a fellow human is to feel understood and important.   In the MOU, a new set of dimensions is available to you as tools that enable you to clarify, understand and communicate to another that their opinion was heard and an genuine attempt was made (empathy) to view their position.



 Leading with empathy and understanding.

As complexity forces leaders to take on additional dimensions in leadership practice--as well as forcing a whole new subset of people to assume leadership for brief periods of time--the concept of leading with empathy with become imperative.  It will be through community that great performance will be achieved as people have lives.  In applying the concept of ER there are several steps that we can take to assure that we are allowing for this emergent understanding to occur in a field of infinite possibility.

Too often, we close ourselves off to the universal intention by holding too closely to the mental models we have used throughout our lives.  While no one can merely flit in and flit out of their own cognitive maps, we can key our behavior through new models which take into consideration the effects on cognition and behavior of the everybody's right scenario.. 

We begin by accepting ER as an absurd notion, so we disable our truth detector (some refer to this as a BS Detector) and look into the concept with an open mind.  In other words we agree to accept ER as a convention--an unquestioned fact which is used to move us down the path towards further understanding.  A convention is often used in the movies, because there isn't time to explain why and how, and argue all the fine points in order to tell the story, so let's for the sake of argument accept ER as a convention.

Next, we look at the effect it has on opening our mind and heart to the viewpoints of others.  At once, we find ourselves looking outward rather than turned inward.  We accept the fact that while everybody's NOT right, people think they are!  I don't remember the author, but there is an old saying that "a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still."   This axiom is clearly representative of most people and their closely held views.   Remember, that people are desperately hanging on to their own mental models of reality!

Following this acceptance, we can really get down to listening to the merits of what the other person is feeling and trying to communicate.  We can use this MOU to empathize with the person's position and the likely reason that they feel the way that they do.  At this point, we don't go into a redirect questioning period hoping to influence the person to the "right" (our) way of thinking.  The right way of thinking is already being exposed if we will listen to the person trying to communicate.  There will be time to influence that person towards a different reality model ONCE we have heard that person state clearly their position, perhaps their feelings behind the position and even more important, the reason that the position is so important to them.

AT THIS LEVEL, we can truly begin to communicate and make meaning which is conducive to further exploration and deepening of relationship.  This is really the crux of the matter.  For it is relationships which will drive high performance in complex organization.  Relationships that have depth of meaning and understanding are key to the operation of enterprise under ambiguity and high levels of uncertainty.   In this MOU we approach the benefits of dialogue, appreciative inquiry, future search and many other attributes of successful relationship strategies available to organizations.  Yet, it all starts with the emergent possibility created from "everybody's right."



The tendency to discount the "truth?"

The most complex aspect of this mental model is for leaders to understand that they no longer will be looked to for answers.  Most of our lives we have been taught to either provide solutions as leaders or to look to leaders for answers.

The concept of ER is counter-intuitive in this respect and will be very difficult to embrace in practice.  I think that I have presented a compelling enough argument for why leadership needs to operate in this fashion as we move from the role of solution provider to solution facilitator yet the utter absurdness of thinking ER will be difficult to embrace.

It is both paradoxical and upsetting to think that WE are not in fact right!  Obviously we are.  Herein lies the key.  If we know that we are right at least from our point of view, then perhaps we could understand why others feel the need to be accepted as being right also.  It is a point of bifurcation.   That point in leadership practice which we can choose to embark into another framework of relationship or become mired in continually justifying our own position.

The high-performing organization of the future or the optimum enterprise as I like to refer to it as will require strong relationship building skills.  A strong relationship will often be the only advantage that we have as a leader in this new era as we may not always have access to the resources we need to retain our most important followers.  Leaders who are able to empathize and reach a deeper level of meaning and understanding with their followers will have a distinct advantage in the future.



 Learning how to use ER effectively.

We've looked at some of the stages of ER:

  • accepting the convention
  • looking outward instead of inward
  • listening to what is being said
  • listening for the origin of what is being said
  • creating shared meaning
  • realizing empathy
  • building relationships

What follows is an additional step in ER.  Learning to derive meaning from the meaning or listening for meta-meaning.  What is the meaning behind what appears to be the meaning, or what is the truth that is held that leads to the ownership of the communicated meaning.  This is probably the most important step in building relationship.  Many people think this is second guessing but this is the fatal flaw.

Second guessing people based on OUR OWN VALUE SYSTEMS of interpretation is a deadly disease of leadership.  For in this instance we have failed to see clearly the meta-meaning.  We have stopped listening too soon!  Deep relationships and MOU's occur when we connect with people.  We need to go beyond empathy to connection.  Understanding the authentic person behind the communication is what creates the ability of dialogue to extend our leadership into people's lives.   People who are connected need far fewer rules, policies, procedures and oversight.  

The true connection created by genuine appreciation for another's point of view is evidenced with a far stronger and more powerful bond that mere empathy.   When people have a genuine relationship built on trust and understanding, connection deepens the intrinsic motivation potential resident in all of us--seeking expression in our everyday lives.  The principle of ER can be the gateway to this potential and offer the opportunity to connect at deeper levels of relationship.   Leadership will become more about relationship than finding solutions to problems.   If we take care of relationship, the rest will take care of itself in its own time.




This material is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Financial, Legal and Professional information is not Financial, Legal and Professional advice. You should see a Financial, Legal or Professional in the area in which you live if you need advice.


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