I am driving north on Route 81, somewhere between Virginia and Massachusetts, when I realize that all my attention is riveted onto a single sentence.

"The obsessive need to be right is an expression of the fear of death."

I pull over, stop the cassette player, rewind, and listen again. And again. I am enthralled. I am listening to the voice of Eckart Tolle, reading the text of his astonishing book, The Power of Now. Has this man just identified the single most compelling cause of conflict--from friendly spats to global war--in the history of civilization?

The obsessive need to be right.

I believe that giving up my need to be right--even my right to be right--may well have been the single most important discovery of my adult life.

No, that's actually not quite right...

The giving up isn't the discovery; that's a decision, a choice--and not one necessarily made all at once. (Like most life-changing decisions, it's one that you make, only to make again and again....) The discovery--the one that earned that blue-ribbon, number-one distinction--is the freedom that flows from exercising that choice.

A proposition: You will participate in and serve a team only to the degree that you give up the right to be right. The person most driven by the need to be right will ultimately destroy the team. The person most free of that need is where the heart of the team most resides. And a team in which all the members significantly give up that need? There may be no force more powerful.

Legendary screenwriter William Goldman (Princess Bride, All the President's Men) tells a story about being on the set with Clint Eastwood. Goldman was flabbergasted to see the Hollywood icon standing in line at the commissary along with the rest of the crew, patiently waiting for his turn at the makeshift lunch counter. Not drawling, "Feelin' hungry today--punk?" Just waiting his turn.

Eastwood? The Man with No Name? Standing in line?! Yep. Even in silverscreendom, the Land of the Giant Egos, you can find people of Eastwood's stature who have not forgotten the truths of humility and teamsmanship: the willingness to be no more right than the guy next to you.

Next time you're at a company event, look around. Are the top pin levels--the Eastmans of that world--waiting in the food line with the rest of the crew, or keeping off to themselves, hobnobbing with the "power players"?

What makes a team work? Is it as simple as giving up the right to be right? I think so.

But, as Dennis Miller's trademark sign-off goes, that's just my opinion...I could be wrong.

 

JOHN DAVID MANN is Editor of Networking Times.