Your values, political, organizational, or personal, mean close to nothing unless they cost you something.
We are living in a time when there is a rise in expressed hatred and bigotry. We are seeing the lowest versions of people and even nations celebrated. None of this is new, but it feels like a growing wave. It is difficult for leaders to know how to respond.
I hear increasing calls for public declarations of allegiance, participation in movements, and joining petitions. In some cases I sign on, in others I don’t.
I’ve written before about discerning when is the time to take a stand for or against a controversial situation.
But more and more the tension is arriving within organizations. As people are urged to declare their stance on matters that may have little to do with the reason for what you do they may try to force you into creating a policy, position, or proclamation. The pressure may come from the fringes of your team, donors, or network; or from core people.
With so much potential for being misinterpreted (even deliberately), the best guide comes from your organization’s established values. Even if you have never explicitly identified values, the stories you tell about yourselves and the things you do at your best reveal them fairly clearly.
(Catalyst does offer a values training workshop that has been very helpful for recognizing values and distinguishing them from mission and vision; contact us to learn more about our story-based approach.)
When suspicion and consequences are both high, wisdom returns to core values and uses them to craft a response that expresses the heart of the organization.
A few tips to do this well:
1. Prioritize Posture Over Position: Unless the matter is truly essential for your organization, developing a new policy under duress can be a trap. Instead of rushing something that may raise further problems, express your core convictions and commit to learning and compassion. Those who demand a specific rule do not always have your organization’s interests in mind.
2. Offend On Purpose: Think carefully about the reactions you will face and craft your responses to align with those you serve, partner with, and relate to most closely. It may be impossible to avoid offending anyone, so decide who’s favour you can live without and anticipate their departure. If your organization is dependent on satisfying people who don’t fit your values you are better off suffering the short term impact of losing them than the long term impact of relying on them.
3. Refuse To Rush: The urgency of social media and the 24 hour news cycle make it seem like you need to determine your stance instantaneously. You don’t. Hurried decisions don’t allow for the quality of research and reflection that weighty matters deserve. Having to backtrack because of unanticipated consequences always undermines your credibility.
4. Listen Well: The loudest voices aren’t always right or even well-informed. Seek out input from those who have earned perspective over time whenever possible. Many matters are more nuanced than they may appear and the tendency to be caught in an echo chamber affects us all. There are some certainties and absolutes, but there are also many who oversimplify things to achieve influence.
5. Be Bold: Confidence comes from knowing that you have done your homework, followed your values, and gotten your key stakeholders aligned. When you decide to make a statement or take a stand do it with conviction. If it is worth your effort it is worth your courage, and worth the potential cost that may follow.
Mature leaders don’t go looking for a fight in an area that isn’t core to their organization’s purpose. But if the heated tenor of our society requires you to enter the battlefield, do it well and with the assurance that your actions are driven by values you truly believe in.