Hi everybody, this is Mondays with Mike, a weekly video series where I answer questions from people just like you. This is a hard question.
I’m a manager of a large division of a privately held company. Recently I came out and made a statement on a sensitive issue. It blew up in my face. There were those that said I wasn’t strong enough, others that said I was too strong, and some that thought the statement was perfect. Is there any way to win as a leader these days given the sensitivities?
No. There isn’t. There is no way to win if you define winning as making everybody happy. If you define winning as pleasing everyone, if you define winning as saying things that are going to land in a way that everyone says “That was great, that was perfect, that was awesome!”, then no.
You can get close, and the way that you get close as a leader is this. If you’re going to come out and make a statement on a sensitive issue, which you did, you better get some counsel from the people affected by the sensitive issue.
I made a similar mistake. I made a statement on an issue, and the mistake I made was I did not ask those who were affected by the issue. I came from myself, and that was not a particularly unselfish thing to do! My intentions were good, I did not intend to be selfish, I did not intend to offend anyone. But apparently, I did not come out strong enough for some. I came out perfect for others, just like you, and others I came out differently. So, here’s what I learned and maybe it’ll help you. I learned that if I’m going to make a decision or a statement, or I’m going to take a position, I had better at least hear the voices of the people affected by the statement I’m going to make. I cannot come out and make a statement on race unless I talk to people of color. I cannot come out and make a statement on issues of sexual preference or sexual identity unless I am talking to people about that to understand their perspective. It’s about understanding. It doesn’t mean I have to change my belief, it doesn’t mean I have to change the way I live my life. It just means that if I’m going to take a stand or make a statement I have to understand other people’s perspectives and sensitivities.
In my case, when I made the statement it was insensitive of me, even though I had heard from people, I did not gather or call on any direct feedback. And here was the big mistake: while I did get direct feedback from a number of folks affected by my statement after the fact, I did not run my statement by those folks, those who would be directly affected, who I impact directly. That was a miss on my part, and I’ll never ever do that again, I guarantee you.
So, that’s how you win. You consider the perspectives, you take them under advisement, you kind of put them in the blender, and then you come out with a statement. It is generally better to come out stronger, non-judgementally, than it is to tip-toe into the statement initially. Particularly when if affects life, loss of life, anything like that.
I hope that’s helpful!
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