There have been more than 25 Republican debates so far this election ‘season.’  Some would say that’s way too many.  Given the alternative of voters relying on heavy doses of incredibly negative ads, I’m of the mind the debates are clearly preferred.  As we get beyond the primary madness into the fall campaign’s insanity, the trade between these two will become even starker. 

This is not meant to be a political endorsement one way or the other, but I’m convinced that you can apply something of value to your own business if you reflect a bit on Ron Paul.  Ron Paul?  Yes, in the sense that in many respects he has played a valuable devil’s advocate role in these debates.   We’ve all heard and are aware of the importance of having a devil’s advocate at meetings addressing important issues.  As founders or senior leaders, it is critical for you to have someone in the room serve in that capacity.  It helps prevent poor or, just as often in my experience, incomplete decisions.  My definition of an incomplete decision is one where one or more of the decision’s primary implications are not addressed and clarified adequately so that the team leaves the meeting without a common understanding of the decision.

Ron Paul’s Best Devil’s Advocate Traits

I have been filtering out the politics and admiring Ron Paul as an almost ideal devil’s advocate.  You should consider these traits, which seem to exude from Ron Paul:
  • Thoughtful – Right or wrong, Ron Paul has spent time thinking through his positions and, just as importantly, his questions.  You want your devil’s advocate to bring depth of thought to bear on the issue at hand.  It often takes that to ask the best questions, ones that come from a fresh point of view. 
  • Willing to speak up – Ron Paul is far from bashful.  You don’t want your devil’s advocate to be timid.  Otherwise, why are they in the room?   
  • Unique perspectives – Some of Ron Paul’s opponents would say crazy perspectives!  However, if you want to dislodge ‘group think,’ it is often necessary to plop a very unique perspective on the table. 
  • Thick skin – Some of the debates have gotten fairly personal, and it seems Ron Paul is able to maintain a remarkably even keel.  You never want your devil’s advocate to take things personally.  Their role is a valuable one, and they need to continue to be engaged on the issue. 
  • Sense of humor – Ron Paul gets some very good laughs out of the audiences, but also out of his opponents.  That indicates a likeability factor that is important.  People tend to receive out-of-the-box thoughts or questions about their position more favorably when it comes from someone with a likable personality. 
Help Your Team Make Better Decisions

When you consider your senior team that typically addresses big issues, make sure you have someone that can effectively serve as devil’s advocate.  Factor the traits above.  Ideally, your senior management team includes one or two individuals that naturally and effectively fit the bill.  If not, invite someone outside the core leadership group to attend the meeting.  I have liked to call these folks ‘thought leaders.’  Even though they are often more junior, they act as informal leaders with a great pulse of the organization, the technology, and/or the market.  

So, look around the room during your next important meeting.  See if you can locate Ron Paul.  You may be surprised to find that your Ron Paul… is you