These people are usually jerks.
Most respectable leaders try to avoid causing offence when they can. They go out of their way to consider the perspectives of others and sculpt their communications to ease the way for hard things to be received. They know that in the long term winning people over is worth the extra effort.
But sometimes it can’t work. Sometimes there’s no third way, no compromise, no managing the message that can keep everyone satisfied.
I’ve had several coaching sessions in recent weeks where we talked through specific, current situations where no matter what path a leader or organization chooses there are sure to be some stakeholders who are not going to be able to agree. There is no fully peaceful path.
So what does a wise leader do?
Offend on purpose.
If it is clear that you can’t keep everyone happy you need to have the courage to make a deliberate decision about who to hurt.
Of course this doesn’t mean we desire to hurt anyone. We do what we can to avoid, minimize, and compensate those who we can’t help but upset. But it is far better to do the work to consider who is likely to take offence and anticipate their reactions, prepare for them, and then move forward intentionally in the confidence that you’ve done your best.
I wrote about the process of discerning how to handle these tough situations a couple months ago. I think it’s one of the best pieces I’ve ever offered.
As I said in that previous post, your mission/vision/values are extremely valuable anchors to deciding who to offend. But they may not be enough. You also have to consider some other factors:
-Are we choosing who to offend based on what is easiest or on what is truly best?
-Are personal and organizational biases being acknowledged and prevented from undue influence on the process?
-What are the real probable costs of this offence (both immediate and ongoing)?
-Is it possible that another leader would be able to find an alternative path that would require less or no offense at all?
-How can we guide those we decide to offend through the situation with compassion and grace; even if it means losing their contributions to the organization? What other organizations can we encourage them to consider?
-How quickly do we need to move forward? Would slowing down help find better options or outcomes (or are we dragging our feet because we don’t want to make the tough call)?
-What would a leader who reached a different conclusion about who to offend be considering that would lead them to a different approach?
I get concerned about any leader who relishes these situations, but I rarely come across people like that. Far more often I’m taking with leaders who feel they’ve exhausted every reasonable possibility of an approach that could keep everyone aligned. They’ve thought, discussed, reviewed input, consulted others, prayed, sweat, and lost sleep over the situation and reluctantly found themselves looking for the best of bad options.
To these leaders I say: Offend Intentionally. It’s not the most enjoyable part of leadership but it may be one of the most critical decisions you can make to keep your organization true to your values and moving forward.
If a coaching call could help you work through a no win situation Contact Us.
(Photo by Liza Summer from Pexels)