Today is an important and historic day for America – a Presidential election. Unfortunately, by tomorrow about half of America will be unhappy with today’s results. There are many sentiments flying through the air about moving past the results no matter what and doing the right thing for the country as a whole. This idea should not be isolated just to the election results of today. We, as leaders, face decisions made by senior leaders that we may not agree with. For example, today’s election may have results we don’t like; however, how we perform in the face of contrary beliefs helps define us as leaders. This is the point I’d like to focus on today but on an organizational level specific to individual leaders.
Anyone who has studied naval leadership should be familiar with the story “Damn Exec”. The tale relates the decisions made by the Executive Officer (or XO) and passed down to the department heads. One particular department head (DH) decided to relate the decisions and orders to his department but made it clear that he did not agree with the choices and put all disdain and blame on the “damn exec”. The intention may have been to form a closer bond with his team – everyone against a common enemy – however, the opposite occurred. The DH’s team lost all respect for him. The team did not see the DH as a leader; he was essentially a middleman and a whiner. There was no confidence or trust in the DH since he was basically deferring responsibility for the work or path ahead to the XO.
One of the fundamental lessons of leadership is to demonstrate unity throughout the entire chain of command, especially to the team members. Like parents with children, children learn from the behavior and example set by the parents. If the leader is openly rejecting or rebuffing the direction of the senior leaders, then it sets the example for accepted behavior and attitude by the team. By setting that type of example, the work effort and performance of the entire team is most assuredly to tank. Leaders no longer are leaders at this point since the opportunity to motivate and inspire the team is lost.
The right answer to this problem is one known well: Unless it is unlawful or immoral, a leader must embody the decisions and direction set forth by senior leaders as his or her own and go forward to achieve goals. Academically, this is a fairly straightforward and obvious solution. However, if you think about the world around us (and outside of the military), people struggle with this concept every day. In my process-oriented brain, I like to go back, once again, to the root goal in order to squelch my anger, disappointment, or even elation (to avoid gloating). The decisions made by senior leaders are intended to be the best path forward even if I disagree with the method. As a leader, I look for that ultimate achievement to provide focus. By honing in on the achievement at hand, the entire team can work to put aside emotional differences in order to accomplish the goal.
One final thought: The election results may upset half the nation, but underlying everything, we all want a better America. Our elected leaders often lose sight of the basic lesson of this blog – demonstrate unity – and allow personal emotion or political party antics to get in the way. I submit once our government leaders start acting a little more like leaders, we as Americans will reap the benefits of clear focus and direction.
CEO, The Professional Development Team