When You Can’t Please Everyone
No leader can please everyone at all times, we accept that. But what about those times when you’ve got the entire torch and pitchfork brigade out to get you? “If you are afraid of being lonely, don't try to be right.” ~Jules Renard Some of your loneliest times as a leader come when you have to make an unpopular, but necessary decision. These decisions are those which usually benefit the organization as a whole, but that cause inconvenience, discomfort––even distress and suffering for some or many of the people you serve. I don’t know that my advice will ease your pain, but these tactics will help you deal with the onslaught and survive to fight another day! Solicit input from potential opponents before making a difficult decision or instituting a difficult change… This is not to placate the masses or even to attempt to gain support or consensus. We’re going to assume for this discussion that you are making an inevitably unpopular or painful decision. What you’re looking for here is a way to carry out your decision with the least opposition and hopefully with the lowest levels of collateral damage. Go to the people who will be most affected or impacted by your decision. Lay out the scenario and ask them for their thoughts. Surprisingly, given the opportunity, many people offer suggestions that might be much harder on them than you would have proposed! Don’t strike back at critics… At least not at first!
In our age of instant communication, it’s way too easy to hit the send button before you consider the consequences of a tirade––however justified. Criticism can provide you with valuable intelligence. Before you reject criticism or punch back at the authors, consider the opposing perspective. The opposition view may not always inspire or warrant a change of course, but it may reveal opportunities for compassionate and productive response. Sometimes the opposition will guide you an alternative you may not have initially considered. Eliminate genuine enemies… There are times when the opposition is genuinely destructive. As tough as it is sometimes, there is a line where you may have to fire people who are hell bent on undermining your authority or destroying your plans. Get rid of them––quickly and decisively. The longer they stay the more opportunity they have to attract confederates and that does nothing but make your job even more difficult. And when you tolerate outright subordination and rebellion, the more it appears that you lack confidence in your decision or action. Be careful though! You don’t want to lose good people just because they don’t agree with you. People with the courage to voice their opposition are sometimes your most valuable assets. Take the time to discern loyal dissenters from genuine adversaries. Do not look for nor depend on widespread acceptance or approval… It would be nice if every decision you make were to be accepted with unquestioning enthusiasm. If this is your experience, please share the secret! Most leaders face an inevitable moment when they know a major decision is going to cause some pain. It’s fact of life. If you’ve done your due diligence and you know the decision you’re making is the right one, then you have to lead the charge and take your cuts. Focus on the people who understand and support your position. Accept their encouragement. Consider their constructive criticism and advice along the way as positive reinforcement sincerely intended to help deal with the situation. And take care of yourself throughout the process… A genuine leader leads with courage, wisdom and compassion. The last thing you want to do is hurt the people who trust in your leadership. Robert E. Lee, considered one of the most effective, beloved and compassionate leaders in American history famously said: “To be a good soldier, you must love the army. To be a good commander, you must be willing to order the death of the thing you love.” Hopefully you don’t have to take it to the mortal extreme! But as a leader you sometimes have to make painful decisions that cause pain and destruction to serve a greater end. As a compassionate leader, it hurts when you have to make these decisions. Too often good people turn to self-destructive behaviors when facing these challenges. As you prepare to execute a difficult decision, draft a plan for self-preservation. Take care of yourself in body, mind and spirit. Surround yourself with the people who love you and dedicate time for physical and mental health and wellness. To be an effective leader, you must attract willing followers. This does not mean, however, that leadership is a popularity contest.
Your decisions will not always please everyone. A genuine leader accepts this fact and the immense responsibility that goes along with it. When you’re willing to make tough decisions and face difficult challenges you will distinguish the willing followers from the fair weather loyalists.
When the storm is over, your sincere and willing followers will still be manning the pumps.