In his book, Conscious Business: How to Build Value through Values, Fred Kofman identifies two types of people in business: controllers and learners. The leadership styles of each are dramatically different. One type will sound familiar as it will be the kind of person we are accustomed to seeing in the business world. The other will seem uncommon, but that will be the type of leader we will need in the future of work.
Controllers think they know everything: how things are, how they should be, and what everyone should be doing. They stake their self-worth and self-esteem on being right. They claim that their opinions are "the truth," and they impose their views on others. If someone poses a different opinion, controllers immediately argue that whoever disagrees with them is wrong. Controllers rarely listen to others.
In his book, Kofman mentions ontology, which is a branch of philosophy that examines the nature of reality, and discusses the concept of ontological arrogance. It is a belief that your opinion is objective truth and that your perspective is the only way to interpret a situation. People who are ontologically arrogant do not distinguish their opinions from facts. Their way of seeing the world is so ingrained in them that they think it is the only way. Most of us do that on occasion. Kofman explains that in charged situations, we do not see things as they are. We "see things as they appear to us." However, some operate in that manner as a matter of course, regardless of the situation.
Controllers employ a command-and-control management style, asking few questions and giving a lot of orders. They always want to prove that their perspective is correct because it is a matter of worth to them. Their ontological arrogance blinds them from seeing other people's perspectives out of fear that they will be disproved, destroying their self-confidence in the process. They do not separate their identity from their opinions. If someone disagrees with their opinion, they see it as a challenge to their image and self-esteem.
An American philosopher Eric Hoffer once said: "In times of change, the learners will inherit the Earth while those attached to their old certainties will find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists." Learners are curious, open, and inquisitive. They invite others to share their opinions so that everyone can learn from each other.
Returning to ontology, the opposite of ontological arrogance is ontological humility. Ontological humility is a belief that your view may not be the objective truth, and the perspectives of others may be equally valid. People with ontological humility recognize that we can look at the world in many different ways, and each approach has its blind spots. Kofman acknowledges that "ontological humility makes sense intellectually, but it is not the natural attitude of the human being."
Organizational teams will never realize their full effectiveness until everyone starts to consider other team members' point of view. Although we all live in one objective world, the way we see it is colored by our own experiential realities. Our perceptions are conditioned by our experiences, our interpretations of the world around us, and our mental models. Mental models are deeply ingrained beliefs, values, assumptions, and generalizations. Our diverse backgrounds make our experiential realities dramatically different from others.
While other people's perceptions are derived from their ways of seeing the world and their mental models, their perceptions are equally valid. Our opinions come from partial information; others may be able to fill the information gap. Kofman indicates that ontological humility does not mean abandoning our own perspectives. We can be assertive about our views as long as we accept that other people's opinions are equally valid.
Accepting everyone's views as valid is good, but it is not enough. Effective leaders must also create an environment conducive to unifying multiple perspectives, enabling people to work together, and providing an opportunity to grow in an inclusive way. Kofman's recommendation: "When facing a challenge, open your goals and strategies to negotiation. The more inclusion, the more wisdom - and the more buy-in." To support mutual learning, leaders must distinguish facts from opinions and express their opinions productively.
When leaders embrace the mutual learning model, they share data, examples, and ideas with others to help them reach their own conclusions. Effective leaders welcome open conversations and mutual inquiry. These actions elicit a sense of excitement and possibility in team members, making them feel in control and appreciated. "The ultimate consequences of the mutual learning model," according to Kofman, "are every leader's dream: effectiveness, flexibility, innovation, high quality and profitability, low costs and employee rotation, competitiveness, continuous improvement, and personal and organizational growth."