..top leadership must become the champions of promoting not only business health but leadership health.
—From Many Parts, One Body, pg. 29.
Have you ever disagreed with where your company was going? Did you speak up? Why or why not? Was the outcome positive or negative?
For a few people, it’s easy. These folks don’t dwell on what may or may not result from their actions. They act. However, most of us act with some sensible concern for self-preservation. Self-preservation is behavior to ensure your survival. For example, you might think “If I speak up, will I get demoted, put in the doghouse, have my responsibilities taken away, or even worse: be fired?”
Is it bad to be concerned about self-preservation? Absolutely not!
We all want to exist—to be somebody and give value to our lives. No one wants to lose what they have worked for or take a step back in their professional lives.
The more we accumulate, the more we can become susceptible to the possibility of loss. We work hard to maintain and protect our lives, our families and our status. This self-preservation impacts how we make everyday decisions. It affects our very inner constitution and beliefs. Ultimately, it influences how we feel about disagreeing with where things are going at work. It can make a difference in whether we stand up and
speak our minds.
The direction of a company may appear clear. Management has defined timelines, tools, plans and expectations. The executives are aligned. Everyone is positioned to move full speed ahead. But there is one problem. You still have an issue. But you can’t quite muster the courage to do what’s right—to speak up. Thoughts about self-preservation start to kick in “I don’t want to be the one who is perceived as the squeaky wheel, the rebel and face of dissent. I don’t want to be considered the outcast.” Is that a real possibility? I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. You might be called to the stage or figuratively thrown into the fire. You might lose ground and might even lose your job. It might feel like it’s not worth the effort. Why bother at all?
My question to you is: Is this healthy? Is this healthy for the company, for the team, or for you? Not only now but in the long term, is this sustainable? Of course not. There needs to be a balance.
Leaders have to grow the business. Otherwise, companies can lose customers and profits. They can be overrun by the competition and ultimately become extinct. The “better-than-yesterday” mentality is a common among highly successful companies. But that’s not all that’s needed to be a success.
To build a sustainable future, there needs to be just as much focus on the internal health of the company. Leaders need employees to commit to the company’s goals and priorities. To get that level of commitment, leaders need to give employees a chance to voice their concerns, engage in conflict around priorities and direction, and to buy-in to a shared vision for the future. They have to be comfortable sharing what they really think with you.
Vision without buy-in is like throwing a big party all by yourself. You spend your own credibility, time and treasure, but you can’t seem to pull it off. Why…because you are alone. Without people aligned to the vision working with you, the guest list is incomplete, invitations don’t go out on time, the venue is too small, the service is bad, and the list of “horribles” goes on and on. At the end of the day, your credibility, time and treasure are wasted and you are actually further behind than when you started.
Your leadership challenge as an executive:
Drive performance and the business direction. At the same time, strive to create an environment where your employees feel free and safe enough to challenge you if they disagree. It’s not about your having to fundamentally change direction as much as allowing your employees to contribute, challenge, understand, buy-in and ultimately own where the company is going—along with you. No one wants employees who operate in fear—if they do you lose their contributions. Management, alone, doesn’t have all the answers, but it needs to help drive progress. Achieving the right tension between these forces strong business performance and an engaged workforce. That’s your job.
Your leadership challenge as an employee:
It’s important that you stand up for what you believe in, to speak up and even to disagree. That’s critical in the initial stages of setting strategy and direction. But realize there are instances where there is no room for negotiation in terms of where the company is going and what the company is demanding. It’s a harsh truth but it is a reality. And once the direction is set, you need to be on board and fully supportive with your team and across the company.