Happy July 4th! Independence Day was founded on the principles of individual rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Thanks to all those who fought for this right and who protect it daily.

As I reflect on individual independence and leadership, I wonder: Do we really embrace independent thought at work? Independent thought has shaped this nation and shapes most of the world’s innovation. It is a right to think and act independently, but it takes courage. We teach our children to advocate for themselves, to find their voice. But at work, do we encourage the same? Do we encourage our employees to fearlessly find and share their voice? Is there an abundance of independent thought in your workforce?

Deviate from group thinkPB-Blog-independent-thinking-inline

At work, people feel “safe” in the majority, but group thinking tends to lead to complacency. And before you know it, new thinking “disruption” is forced upon the group, often by outside forces (an individual, a company, a market) who aren’t afraid to embrace independent thought. So how “safe” is group thinking? Not very, if you take the long view.

As a leader, it is your job to take the long view. You must balance short-term pressures with long-term opportunity. You must run the business you have and use the funds from that business to build the one you will need to survive in the future.

Leaders are paid to drive growth. Growth is only sustainable if you are willing to change and improve with time. Any good idea will attract competition – and if you don’t stay ahead of the competition, your ability to survive will be at risk.

Support your independent thinkers

It’s so important to embrace independent thought. There was a great article that ran last summer in The Culture Works: Can you be an independent thinker and a team player? It quoted Richard Hackman, a pre-eminent researcher on teams and Edgar Pierce Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard University: “…teams with deviant thinking outperformed those teams without them. In many cases, deviant thinking is the source of great innovation.”

Deviating from group think requires courage, certainly. But it also requires you to:

  • Be positive and respectful. Sometimes for people to hear what you have to say, you need to focus on *how* you say it
  • Share from a spirit of curiosity and learning. It’s not about proving someone else wrong
  • Ask questions. A lot of them
  • Believe that there’s another perspective and a different opportunity. It’s worth it to take a risk and share the independent thoughts running around in your head

As leaders, we can set the stage for independent thought. And there’s good news: independent thinkers aren’t as rare as you may think. They are often living within the team you already have. But unless you lead them to speak up, you may never know who they are there.

Create the safe environment that allows them to help you be better. Encourage diversity and engage in conversation and intellectual debate. You may just find you all win in the end.


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Al Chiaradonna