This is the 5th and FINAL of a series of posts based on my review of Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading ((Harvard Business School Press, 2002).
Of all the books I’ve read and reviewed on leadership, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading would be one of the top 10 books I’d recommend to any leader—from first line manager to CEO.
--Don’t take it personally when people crticize you when you've made a decision or you will begin to lose self worth and confidence. People ARE NOT saying YOU are a dope….they’re saying in YOUR ROLE you (in their eyes) are acting like a dope. Perhaps you’re being too much of a showboat, too tactless, maybe you’ve pushed things too fast and turned up the heat or pace of change way to fast, not established a coalition for the change, embarrassed people, acted too much like a hero and not enough as a humble servant. Your decison may also impact on their world, and they may not like that and will try to find ways to pushback.
--However, pushback is not always bad. It often means that you’ve struck a nerve that someone else does not like….for some cultural or personal reason.
1. Let’s say you want to change the color of uniforms at a company from black to white. You get tremendous pushback. Some folks call you an “idot” etc. If you take it personally, you may start to reciprocate by pushing back with names yourself. You call them idiots behind their backs or worse in a public setting.
2. Now the war is on. They attack you, undermine you, and do anything to get the heat off them. But what if you get on the balcony--above the fray. Don’t respond emotionally, just say how you regret their name calling…etc. You now analyze who originally asked for or lobbied for the original color…could be your current boss! He doesn’t want to look stupid, so YOU must find a win-win somehow…or the out-door will get a lot closer and faster than you want.
--Distinguish yourself from the role
1. This is very hard, especially when you’re being attacked. Remember it’s your performance in the role that’s being hit not you….someone is uncomfortable.
2. Don’t take credit. Pass it along. You’ll be glad you did in the end. Too much praise taking can set you up for a fall when the blame is passed around…perhaps unjustly.
--Cultivate factions beyond your own camp.
1. NOBODY can make major organizational change ALONE. You’ll need lots of people in the coalition.
2. DO NOT conspire with those colluding to push against you by making yourself the issue.
3. An Example: Keep the heat on the ISSUE, not you. For example, let’s say that in a sports equipment manufacturing company, the sales quotas are screwed up because the tracking data is inaccurate. People want it fixed and will blame whoever they are directed to pushback on…a kind of scapegoat. However, if you counter attack personally at the “jerks” attacking you, you unwittingly collude with them…by making YOURSELF the issue….not the bad data.
4. In the above case, instead of allowing people to shine a light on you personally….the easy way out….you must shine the light, not on them but on the issue…and never let up on that. In a sense, start a campaign. Be just like Clinton’s oft repeated campaign that defeated George Bush (41) when no one had ever heard of Clinton. His simple slogan was: It’s The Economy!
5. In the above example of the basketball manufacturer…if you’re being personally attacked for a systematic problem, your slogan should be: It’s The BAD INCOMING DATA!
--Have confidant and alies…just know the difference
1. Confidants love you warts and all. They share a deep personal bond with you and tell you when you’re getting too big for your britches…and pump you up when your deflated like a flat tire. They’re clearly focused on you and are not conflicted with cross loyalties. They’re friends, parents, doctors, lawyers…they’re on your side…for good or bad. And they’ll tell you when you’ve got egg on your face or when you look good but can’t see that either. They provide a safe haven to tell your deepest feelings and secrets to.
2. Allies share your values and beliefs but they’re subject to cultural (especially work related) currents. Thus a friend at work can be an ally and help you establish a coalition. They can help you understand the views of others, give you perspective, and political advice. And you’ll need a large number of them to help you ward off the attacks…and even more importantly launch your campaign. They can be colleagues, vendors, clients, stockholder, parent companies, corporate partners, etc…don’t forget to make a long list of who the real stakeholders are.
3. However, Confidants are different from Allies. DON’T confuse them. If you show your deepest fears, anger, and insecurities to subordinates, bosses, even allies—you become VULNERABLE to manipulation. For example, a subordinate may actually use insider info against you because he or she really would like to get promoted into your job! This is not meant to make people paranoid only realistic. Keep you allies close but not as confidants.
4. Also, if you keep your allies close, keep your critics even closer. There’s tendency to not talk to you major critics because it’s uncomfortable. LISTEN to your critics…because that at least let’s you know the arguments pushing back on the issue.
1. Stay in shape….work out. Establish a routine to help you through this difficult time.
2. Find places to be comforted: You car with the music on, a friend’s house, you therapist’s office, with your coach..
Finally, understand that leadership is not for wimps. Many day's you may wake up wondering why you ever decided to lead. But when you see the postive change that you can make in a person, a team, and an organization as a leader, I think you'll find the journey well worth the trek.