Back in the day I was a competitive, wide-ranging, young trivia nerd. (Now I’m a competitive, wide-ranging, old trivia nerd.) So I became a contestant on a local TV quiz show for area high school teams based on the then popular TV show College Bowl. Creatively enough, our competition was called High School Bowl.
Today we’d recognize this as a forerunner of Jeopardy. But College Bowl had a couple of key differences. Rather than having individual contestants, it pitted two four-person teams against each other. It also focused on academic subjects like history, art, literature, science and math and paid little attention to pop culture and sports. As team captain for our school, I must humbly say that we totally crushed every opposing team. We didn’t celebrate with chest bumps or by jumping in the stands. We went out for ice cream.
High School Bowl featured two types of questions. Any of the eight contestants was eligible to answer Toss-Up Questions as quickly as possible. We even had buzzers. How cool was that?!?
When a contestant answered a Toss-Up Question correctly, his or her team then got the sole opportunity to answer a Bonus Question. This time team members were allowed to confer with each other briefly before the team captain gave the answer on behalf of the team–my one and only responsibility as captain.
Usually this wasn’t a problem. In our first match, however, we were asked a Bonus Question and the team didn’t agree. So I gave the response I thought was right. I wasn’t.
Despite losing those points, we won the match and advanced to the next round. Afterward our coach told me, “As captain, your job is not to give the answer you think is correct. Your job is to listen to the other team members and decide who is most convinced his answer is right. Give that person’s response.”
His advice worked like a charm. Sure enough, next match another Bonus Question was asked that we couldn’t agree on. This time, instead of trying to figure out the answer myself, I listened to the team. I could see who was most certain in the discussion, and I gave his answer. It was correct.
That was an important lesson for me in leadership by listening. I suspect my team here at IVP would say it’s a lesson I still need to learn, and no doubt there’s truth in that. Here are some things, then, I’m still trying to learn:
1. Listen to others. Our bias should be to hear out what others have to say.
2. Know whom to listen to. Not all counsel is created equal. The point is not to listen to the loudest or most self-assured person, as was the case in the quiz show. Nor is it to listen most closely to your friends, the people you like or those you want to impress. The point in most settings is to be discerning about who has knowledge, logic, character or experience to offer. Listen especially closely to them.
3. Consensus can be valuable but has its limitations. When time allows, discussion with an aim toward consensus can be a good way to ensure broad buy-in for a decision or course of action. When time is limited, however, consensus can get in the way of good decisions. In an emergency, the designated leader has to make the call, and make it quickly.
So here’s a Toss-Up. Who is the only person to be both President of the United States and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court? Buzz.