Don’t Keep Score in the Arena of Ideas

Working collaboratively can be incredibly rewarding, and if done well will often lead to great results. It can also be very frustrating depending on whose on the team and whose in charge.

A leadership skill that is important to consider for anyone who is responsible for the results of high performance teams is making sure the best ideas not only come to the surface, but that the best ideas win. As the bulk of my career has been spent in investing and the transaction environment, much of my leadership has been around trying to drive toward progress and success in incredibly dynamic environments. And it’s in those types of environments in particular that the best ideas can make or break results.

As a leader, you have likely heard stories of how successful executives give their opinion last in a meeting in order to not stifle other conclusions, ideas or disagreements. This is a great tool which, depending on how much time you have, can lead to great results and growth in other members of the team. It can (and will) also lead to mistakes. But again, depending on what’s at stake, letting someone make a mistake and learn from it can help them grow.

It is likely you have also come across leaders who seem to want to keep score as to which ideas, which contributions, make it into the final decision or work product. They are in fact slighted if at least some of their fingerprint doesn’t end up in the final decision or product. This in my opinion is a mistake and a vestige of a hierarchical mindset, not a mindset where the best ideas win. I offer two specific examples of incredibly successful leaders who have evolved over their careers to take the “best ideas win” approach.

Steve Jobs had the reputation as a dictator early in his career. And he made some damn good decisions – as well as some horrible ones. However, later in his career, he appears to have grown in understanding that if you want the most out of a high performance team, you have to let the best ideas win. In fact in his last interview with Walt Mossberg in 2010, Jobs said If you wanna hire great people and have them stay working for you, you have to let them make a lot of decisions and you have to run be ideas not hierarchy. The best ideas have to win, otherwise good people don’t stay.

Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater, one of the worlds most successful hedge funds, uses the term idea meritocracy for the culture at his firm. And Dalio worries a lot about culture. He acknowledges his arena of ideas isn’t for everyone as some have considered the culture brutal. If your ideas don’t stack up, you hear about it. But the best ideas win. As they always should.

So as you continue to evolve as a leader and teammate, and as you continue to strive to build high performance teams that can produce incredible results, hopefully you will keep this maxim in mind. In the arena of ideas, don’t keep score. May the best ideas win. Wherever they come from.