The Skill of Knowing Where Your Input is NOT Needed

It is becoming increasingly apparent to me that the largest missing ingredient in the system (substitute whatever system you want) is the ability of people in power, generally abled cisgender white men (and women, depending on context), to understand when it is time for them to step back, make way, hold space, shut up, promote others, listen, understand others, etc. If a person goes through life being rewarded with career success, financial success and social clout for promoting themselves, making themselves and their ideas as prominent as possible, generally to the exclusion of others’ ideas and thoughts, the system itself is also to blame for these powerful people’s actions. We are very much selecting for the wrong criteria. We must change the focus, change our collective KPIs (key performance indicators) and start rewarding those who put others first, who support those with less power, who hold space for others to find their strengths and build their own power. Power in the system is not zero-sum; there is much to go around and much to share. By treating the system as zero-sum (if you win, others must be losing), power gets hoarded not with the smartest people or the most valuable people, because all humans are equally valuable and everyone is smart in one way or another. It only creates winners and losers, entrenches power with those who may or may not deserve it and diminishes opportunities for creative solutions to our increasing number of existential problems on earth.

We must change course, and some currently powerful abled cisgender white men may lose some of their status. They may lose the automatic air of respect and deference they get when they simply enter a room. They may lose the feeling of authority over their subject matter of choice in their careers. They may even have to admit that they have things to learn in this new paradigm, namely, humility. Lesson #1, you almost certainly DO NOT have the right answer all the time. You may be skilled in confidently defending your answer, but that doesn’t make it objectively correct. Compromise and consensus will almost always yield more accurate answers to business planning questions. You also will NEVER be able to speak authentically for another human, even in a broad sense. What you know will ALWAYS pale in comparison to what you do not know. And your relationships are more important than your position, your income or your power.

So for everyone, try to step into the room in a totally different way than you have in the past. If you have kept silent because you knew your thoughts would become something to argue about or would be dismissed out of hand, speak up anyway. And if you have typically been dominant in groups, try to get through a day not speaking when you most want to, or at least not promoting yourself or your ideas. Speak up on behalf of others, or not at all. Say “Yes, and…” Tell someone what you appreciate about them and their ideas.

Both will feel uncomfortable at first, but like beginning an exercise program, you are stretching. Practice and over time it will become easier. And we will all be better off.

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