Who is Right?

| | General Leadership

If you look closely at this picture you will see that 8 out of 26 letters are completely worn off.  I purchased this Gateway laptop in July of 2008.  I also purchased an extended warranty from Office Depot to cover hardware defects and malfunctions for 3 years.


Seems to me the keys are hardware.  And not being able to read the letters on a keyboard that is less than 2 years old could be considered a materials defect.   I have owned many PC’s over 24 years and never had this problem.  So I called Office Depot Extended Warranty Support anticipating getting their help.

They asked me if when I pressed each key it worked.  I said yes.  And then they politely informed me that lettering rubbing off is not a hardware issue, at least not in their interpretation.  Furthermore, they could not help me get the parts. I was on my own.  I called the store where I bought it.  They agreed with me but said there was nothing they could do.  I tried calling Gateway, but as soon as they determined my computer was over a year old I reached an abrupt dead end.  Their website redirected me to a reseller.  Needless to say tracking down and ordering what I needed took time.  I was annoyed.  The money is not the issue – $5.99 a key is merely irritating.  For me the real failure is a breakdown in our agreement.  I called for help I thought I paid for and didn’t get it.

Who is right?  Me of course…in my own mind anyway!

They can give me all the logic in the world to justify their interpretation of hardware defect and malfunction as it applies to keyboards.  I don’t agree, but that is certainly their choice to make.  In the process it seems they have lost sight of one very important thing: our relationship.  This is my second Gateway laptop and I shop at Office Depot weekly.

Gateway and Microsoft have also done their share of pointing fingers at each other when it comes to problems with this particular PC.  They are both very right about what is not their responsibility.  My dissatisfaction has been building so while my keyboard problem may seem trivial to some, for me it is my “last straw”.

You could say we are both being right here.  And it seems to me we both lose. My choice when it is time for a new computer is now clear: I will buy a Mac.  It will cost me more and I will have to go through the pain of changing something I have not wanted to change.  The companies involved may have lost a customer forever.

What does this have to do with leadership?

Everything we do and say has some element of interpretation involved.  When things break down we can easily get caught in the minutia trying to prove our interpretations as “the truth”.  We can create all kinds of rules to protect ourselves and our companies from being taken advantage of.  We can rant and rave about just how wrong “they” are.  But at what cost?

I am not a fan of the philosophy “the customer is always right” either.  Far too often that philosophy results in relationships that are neither satisfying nor sustainable.  I respect the need for everyone to develop and use their power of interpretation to set boundaries that serve their needs and commitments even if I don’t like it or agree with it.  I have been told no many times and been perfectly fine with it.

It’s all about relationship.

When we are focused on our relationships we can much more easily easily see the moments when we get to choose: will we stick to our guns and justify how right we are OR will we be willing to step out of our point of view to see the other side so we can perhaps find a mutually satisfying outcome.

We don’t even have to give up our point of view to be able to listen to, comprehend and consider another completely different perspective.  Worst case we learn something.  And being truly listened too is a gift in and of itself.  Yet still, being right can be very compelling.  Don’t we just love hearing the words “you were right”?

But beware:  being right can quickly devolve into righteousness.  And righteousness makes us vulnerable, especially as a leader.  Why?   Because the moment we become righteous we stop listening.  And when we can’t hear we miss things – important things.

What can make matters worse is that it can be hard to observe our own righteousness.  Being right feels good. It feels, well, “right”.  Then there are all those people who will jump on the bandwagon and reinforce just how right we are.

Don’t be fooled.  Agreement does not equate to proving something is true.  It may validate us.  It may be useful in justifying our actions.   But it is a poor substitute for listening to support critical thinking and mindful action.

In the end “Who is right?” is more often than not an irrelevant question. When being right becomes the prize chances are we have a blind spot.  Unless we remain mindful of our goals and intentions we may never realize just how much that blind spot is costing us.

What do you think?  Does righteousness make a leader vulnerable in your opinion? What do you think could be the cost of righteousness to a leader?

I’ll give one answer to the question of what could be the cost to start the ball rolling… Just as I felt powerless when trying to stand up to these big companies about my problems with their products, the people we lead may also feel powerless  to address the problems that affect their effectiveness.

I look forward to hearing what you have to say!


Enter A Comment

Gwyn Teatro   |   10 November 2009   |   Reply

Susan, I love the way you take ordinary life experiences and use them as the basis for juicy discussions.

Like most people, I like being right. You just have to ask my husband to know that. What I’m learning though is that the questions “What is right?” or “Who is right?” often means much less than “What is important?”

Organizations of all kinds vow to put the customer first and yet, when “the rubber meets the road” they so often choose to make other things and people more important and justify it behind the cloak of righteousness.

Perhaps, if more of us in organizations and in everyday life asked “What is important” first, and was truly honest about it, it is possible that we might struggle a great deal less with righteousness.

Susan Mazza   |   12 November 2009   |   Reply

Thank Gwyn. Always appreciate having you think with me! Your last point is particularly compelling. The more we can stay focused on what’s truly important, the less likely we are to fall into the trap of righteousness.

Michael Eisbrener   |   11 November 2009   |   Reply

Excellent insights Susan. I forget all too often this lesson. When I bump into another who is practicing being ‘right’ I match their play and we both lose. A long time ago someone told me only one thing is more powerful than relationship. An Ego. Put an ego at risk and the relationship suffers or dies. Being right is the ego in play. It has its place and for me at least, when I play the Lone Ranger, getting it right and knowing all the answers, the persona works as a supporting character, sometimes as the narrator but never as the leader.

Susan Mazza   |   12 November 2009   |   Reply

Wonderful insight and metaphor Michael. When our ego is driving (as is so evident when we are being righteous), the thought that we are actually leading is an illusion. Thanks so much for stopping by and enriching the conversation.

Wally Bock   |   11 November 2009   |   Reply

Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best independent business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.


Wally Bock

Susan Mazza   |   12 November 2009   |   Reply

I am honored. Thank you very much Wally.

Mary Jo Asmus   |   11 November 2009   |   Reply

Susan, great post. I had a completely different experience with Office Depot recently, prompting me to change much of my own business from Office Max (the last time I was there, the clerks were standing around joking with each other as I went from aisle to aisle looking for notecards – nobody asked if I needed help)!

I bought a large monitor at Office Depot and was concerned about hooking it up and getting it going. The young gentleman who waited on me during the purchase stayed after closing to help me through the process. Then he gave me his business card and told me he’d be working – and that I could call and talk directly to him the next day if I needed further assistance.

I did call, and he did assist. And told me to call again if I needed more help. I am now an Office Depot fan.

In addition to the points in your fine post, this points out two things to me: Hire well and train well. In retail, especially, if your front line people can’t form relationships with the clients, find someone who can.

Susan Mazza   |   12 November 2009   |   Reply

Actually for the record my experience overall with the Office Depot store in Vero Beach has been excellent. So I will not stop shopping there. But I will not be buying computers from them anymore and will think twice about buying anything with their service agreement attached.

Your point about hiring and training people on the front lines so they are capable of building relationships is so essential to the customer experience it is amazing the extent to which this continues to be done poorly. Always seems to me that too much focus is on following scripts and rules. As annoying as it can be not to get a human I expect that from automated systems. When I actually get a human I expect them to listen, think and respond like they are interacting with a human!

Jackie Cameron   |   12 November 2009   |   Reply

Oh Susan this is such a perfect time for me to be reading this excellent post. I have been tying myself in knots over the bad service I have had in relation to the car garage people I need to use for my car. My desire to make my point led me to behave in a way that is both unusual and uncomfortable for me. I am not sure yet how I will learn from that situation but I will learn. And I guess that in terms of personal leadership that is a very good thing.

Susan Mazza   |   12 November 2009   |   Reply

Thanks for sharing about your experience Jackie. It is so easy to get triggered when we are on the receiving end of someone else’s need to be right at our expense. Being right does not usually bring out the best in people – the “giver” or the “receiver”. Ironically it happened to me the night after I put up this post. I can totally relate to the tying yourself up in knots part. I got a little testy with someone which like for you is unusual and uncomfortable for me.

While the righteousness is all “theirs” the trigger belongs entirely to us. For me I can now see something I need to work on that I had not seen quite so clearly before. I will apologize for my testiness because that keeps me in integrity with me. Like you said – it presents an opportunity to learn and grow in terms of our personal leadership.

One last thing…don’t forget to forgive yourself! Your commitment to learn from this will ensure you do things differently the next time.

Susan Mazza   |   12 November 2009   |   Reply

Thanks for stopping by Bruce. I have so much invested in the PC platform for many years. Many people sell Mac based on how much easier it is to use. I’ve used a Mac for a while and actually found it harder for me. I grew up with the PC so it is easy for me to understand. 90% of my clients use them, too. But for me the draw now is stability and reputation for great customer service. They just lost a very loyal customer. As you say, I am probably not the only one.

Sometimes being right can run you right out of business.

Jennifer M.   |   17 November 2009   |   Reply

Thanks for the great post. To answer your question about righteousness, I do think it makes a leader very vulnerable. A leader that sets up a system where everyone around him or her tells them they are right may bring good feelings, but accomplishes nothing. The important thing is not being right, but making the decision that is best. In my opinion, a good leader surrounds themselves with people that are going to stand up and question the decisions that are being made.
We all make mistakes is judgement and having people around to question those that may be wrong is a necessity to have around as opposed to those who always tell you you’re right.

Zachary Vernal   |   12 November 2009   |   Reply

Greetings Susan;

I found your post via Wally Brock’s blog, and thought I might chime in.

What you saying has a lot of validity to it. Many of these large retail companies promise to want a relationship with you at the most intimate level, but in reality just desire for you to pay that extra 20 bucks for their extended warranty. After that moment, you just become a number to them. It is sad how few of the larger companies out there are willing to go that extra mile for their customers.

In regards to your comments on leadership, I would say there absolutely a fine line between those who are right and righteous. Leaders who cross over to that dark place known as righteousness forget about the people that got them to where they area. Furthermore, they begin to develop a persona that their opinion on matter is all that matters. They are right, and that’s all there is to it.

What I would suggest for those who have crossed into this dark place is to step back, and truly survey the situations.
Concluding that you are right about something is not bad a bad as long you are able to consider alternatives. To realize that I am right now, but this may not be the case next time is the different of being right and righteous

Till next time, have a good one!

Susan Mazza   |   13 November 2009   |   Reply

You may some great points Zachary. Thank you for enriching the conversation.

I love your last point in particular – very well said: “To realize that I am right now, but this may not be the case next time is the difference of being right and righteous.”

I think you are also pointing to the difference between assuming you are right and choosing a point of view to inform your decisions. I also think people can easily confuse righteousness with taking a stand, thinking they are being strong and doing a good thing when they are really just alienating the people around them.

Susan Mazza   |   03 March 2010   |  

So true Bruce. Unless we somehow get woken up to the cost of being right we can’t even see we actually can make a choice about how to invest our energy. Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

Bruce Lynn   |   02 March 2010   |   Reply

My father was a clergyman and in his role one of the primary jobs he did regularly was couples counseling (he was trained in counseling as well). When asked what was the most prevalent problem he came across, he was very clear in his response: “Relationships break down when people invest more energy in being right than in solving problems.”

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