Leadership is a choice we all have to make

In some circumstances we find ourselves in as professionals - it would be easier to turn a blind eye to what we see.  The pressures of the workplace and obligations we navigate around right and wrong can cause our moral landscape to devolve into shades of grey.  Black and white not longer apply when we are justifying being "ok" with moral compromise.

Leadership in it's many forms is at it's heart the refusal to walk away from our moral compass in favor of an easier way. 

There are moments in every professional's career when we are asked by our moral voice to swim against the crowd.  If it were easy to make that decision we wouldn't find ourselves in the position of being the opposition with perspectives that aren't valued by others.  John Maxwell in his book "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership" identifies that leaders pay a cost for their position.  The cost of "blowing the whistle" on injustice, dishonesty and corruption can be very high.  In some cases it may cost you a job, a friendship, a promotion, or recognition.

Are the costs of leadership something you are willing to pay?

I have always warned my clients to expect friendly fire.  When you take a stand about something within your organization that is based on what you believe to be just and honest you can expect that in the short term you will not be met with warm/fuzzy acceptance.  In fact the reception you receive may be downright cold.  People may withhold a multitude of positive outcomes in hopes that you will become more compliant to the party line.  Be prepared to accept that the cost to you may be very high.

When you face the options of complying to dishonest work practices and unjust decisions or taking a stand based on your desire to treat people with integrity there are some important tips to keep in mind:

  1. Take a minute and think- make sure that your objection is based on sound reasoning and not a knee-jerk reaction to something you just don't like.  If you can't ensure in your gut that what you are sensing is in line with your ethics at their foundation then your rebuttal to what is being done will come across as righteous indignation and no one will take you seriously.
  2. Choose your words- leaders do not move to embarrass or belittle.  You might see an action as clearly unethical but your words should communicate a desire to help move things into a positive direction rather than condemn.  When you can present your perspective in a way that inspires change- you have lead with integrity.
  3. Listen for competing and conflicting goals- often decisions that land in the "grey" are made because the person making them felt they had to compromise.  When your ethical radar is screaming at you- quite that noise and listen for what the dilemma was in the first place.  If you can't hear the issues being faced you can't propose a solution.
  4. Moral imagination can bring you a solution- professionals often feel that they are between a rock and a hard place and really have no choice about the structures and expectations placed on them.  Moral imagination can lead you to redefine the issues in such a way that you find ways of addressing impossible problems that have never been done before.  Imagine new definitions, boundaries and opportunities and make them happen. (more on this in other posts!)

We will always be faced with situations where we could compromise one piece to favor another.  We could stick to convention instead of innovating and we dishonor ourselves and those around us in the process.  True leadership equips people to make the tough decisions they face with authenticity and integrity.  It's a choice we all have to make.

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