During his life, Howard Baker, Jr., the longtime politician and diplomat from Tennessee, credited his father with the following quote:
“You should always go through life working on the assumption that the other guy might be right.”
Not only does this quote strike me as a thoughtful way to travel through life personally, but it also represents a helpful advancement leadership ethos.
Those who volunteer and give financially in support of our institutions deeply revere and highly value the missions we serve. They are some of our most vocal advocates, our most ardent defenders, and our most zealous fans. And, those same people are some of our biggest critics.
“The letter you sent could have been more compelling.”
“The event was too long.”
“Donors don’t know how their gifts are making a difference.”
As professionals working long and hard to advance our institutional missions, it can be difficult to hear negative critiques of our work. In fact, unfavorable commentary can be so difficult to hear that we sometimes give in to the temptation to dismiss it outright.
“They don’t understand the bigger picture of what we are doing,” we may say. Or, we might complain, “we don’t have the budget to do what they are asking.”
However we might mask our response, most immediate and dismissive reactions to criticism are motivated by a bruised or prideful ego.
When we uncouple who we are from our professional role, when we detach our worth from our work, and when we separate ourselves from our outputs, we have the opportunity to better absorb critiques and criticisms. When we allow ourselves to view other perspectives on our work not as “others chasing us,” but rather, as “others joining us to chase the best idea,” we have the chance to get better.
Because maybe, just maybe, “they might be right.”