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Don't Let the "Flip-flop" Fear Lock You into a Decision

The paradoxes of changing your mind

One of the most important and, in some cases, impactful things an organizational leader can do is a simple act that far too many intentionally avoid: They can change their mind. In our society, when a leader changes their mind, they often are perceived as indecisive, inexperienced or even weak. Indeed, the act can be career-ending for a political leader. Organizational leaders, however, must not follow the example set by today’s politicians. They must embrace the notion of being able to change their minds if they seek to optimize not only their leadership, but also the results of their organizations.

The Problem

The list of politicians who ultimately were defeated, at least in part, because they changed their mind is long. George H.W. Bush’s “read my lips, no new taxes” before raising taxes and John Kerry’s “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it” are the most prominent in recent history, but there are many others who suffered the same fate. The common parlance for this phenomenon is “flip-flopping,” which most political leaders avoid at all costs because they deem it better to appear resolute than to appear indecisive or, worse still, wrong.

In the context of businesses and other organizations, leaders face similar pressures. Many people unfairly expect their leaders to be right all the time, which, of course, is the equivalent of expecting them not to be human. In turn, leaders may feel forced to make a paradoxical decision: to maintain their personal power at the expense of perpetuating wrong and often harmful decisions that will only weaken their eventual legacy. Imagine what would have happened had Vladimir Putin been able to reverse course on his disastrous decision to invade Ukraine.

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