Back in the days when I had a “real job,” I also had a “real boss.” My boss, Ed, often made a huge point of saying, “If you agreed with me on everything, then I wouldn’t need you, would I?”
That comment left quite an impression on my still-developing young brain. As a matter of fact, I made it a point to have at least one memorable disagreement with Ed every day. I never wanted him to forget just how much he needed me. If that’s what it took, then okay.
After years of daily disagreements, it finally dawned on me what he really meant to convey. He wanted me to think on the job. He did not want me to do something just because he said to, or because it had always been done that way … because it didn’t occur to me to ask why, or because I was afraid to challenge him or others in higher ranking positions.
Ed was willing to be questioned. He was willing to be proven wrong. He was cool with not having all the answers. He was even alright when I knew more than he did about something; it seemed to make him proud when that happened.
Ed never positioned himself as the “answer man.” He didn’t paint himself into that corner. He was a lot better at asking questions, making requests and getting other people to do the work. He understood that to delegate tasks was to develop talent.
Ed believed in me before I believed in myself. I was never really quite sure why, but it was obvious in the way he treated me; and, I sure didn’t want to let him down. It’s hard to say if any of this was intentional on Ed’s part. I doubt he ever took a single class in leadership. Instead of talking about leadership — about coaching and mentoring; he just did it.
I’ve grown to appreciate Ed. He encouraged me to step up — to begin to see in myself what he could apparently see all along. All of the disagreements between us taught me to trust my own thinking and helped me to find my own voice.
Ed was always more than happy to give credit where credit was due. It’s high time that I give Ed credit for kick-starting my career.
I still disagree with plenty of people and positions. I hope I have learned to disagree in a respectful way; and, if Ed were still here, I’m sure we would have started the day out with a memorable disagreement.