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Doubt as a Tool for Strong Leadership: Balancing Bold Ideas with Rigorous Evidence

As a leader, it can be tempting to believe that your ideas are always the right ones. However, the most effective leaders know that doubt can be a powerful tool for improving decision-making and ensuring that bold ideas are supported by rigorous evidence.

Recent research has shown that leaders who encourage doubt among their team members can achieve better outcomes. For example, a 2018 study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior found that leaders who encouraged constructive dissent among their team members were more likely to make accurate predictions about market trends (Tangirala & Ramanujam, 2018). By creating an environment where team members feel comfortable questioning assumptions and challenging each other’s ideas, leaders can foster a culture of continuous improvement and innovation.

Of course, there is a fine balance between encouraging doubt and causing analysis paralysis. That’s why it’s important for leaders to provide clear guidance and establish decision-making processes that allow for thorough evaluation without getting bogged down in indecision.

Another key aspect of using doubt as a tool for strong leadership is ensuring that bold ideas are supported by rigorous evidence. This means taking the time to gather data, conduct experiments, and seek out expert opinions before making major decisions. It also means being willing to change course if new evidence emerges that challenges previously held assumptions.

By balancing bold ideas with rigorous evidence and encouraging doubt among team members, leaders can create a culture of innovation and continuous improvement. As American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” By embracing doubt and remaining open to new ideas, leaders can avoid falling into this trap and instead lead their teams towards greater success.


Tangirala, S., & Ramanujam, R. (2018). Ask and you shall hear (but not always): Examining the relationship between manager questioning and employee voice. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 39(10), 1206-1220. doi: 10.1002/job.2301

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