“Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.”
– Abraham Lincoln
Strike Three! Touchdown! Goal!
These are examples of sports decisions made by umpires and referees under the most challenging conditions. No chance to sleep on the decision, officials are expected to put their feet in the right place and stand firm. What can we learn from individuals who wear striped shirts and wield power with whistles?
Officials bring order, not perfection, into chaos and their quiet leadership sustains the integrity of our sports. Bottom line – they do their job remarkably well. Despite their performance, they receive boos and insults we cannot use in this newsletter. Video and supervisory reviews find they are rarely wrong.
The rest of us do not have video review for our decisions. We don’t put on headphones, look at a monitor, and review all the angles of our call. We do our best and when the pressure begins, we either stand firm or walk back our decisions.
There are many parallels between professional sports and the workplace. Both environments are loaded with competition, judgement, and unmet ego needs. Results matter and we all keep score. The game must go on.
We respect leaders who stand firm when the right decision is made. They push through the noise and do the right thing. On the other hand, we judge flip floppers harshly. We dislike leaders who change their mind based on the political winds, dodge accountability, and leave the rest of us to clean up the mess.
We have heard the empty promises from political and corporate leaders …
“Vote for me and I will not redistrict your kids”
“We will balance the budget with no new taxes”
“This plant will never close – your job is safe”
“Your paid time off request should not be a problem”
Before we judge these flip floppers too quickly, let’s look in the mirror. Are our feet in right place making decisions? Do we stand firm? What would video review tell us about our performance?
I recall a situation when I made a good decision and walked it back. My feet were in the wrong place.
We were introducing a new policy to discontinue accepting late client payments on overdue accounts. The policy was clear and encountered very little pushback from our sales force. One day, an influential sales manager asked for an exception for one of his top producers and my response should have been easy.
Instead, my response was a disaster. Initially I held firm and resisted the request for an exception. Later in the day, the sales manager continued to push me hard to change my mind and I relented. Why did I change my mind? I was insecure about my sales manager and top producer relationships and wanted to please them, not realizing they would continue to respect me regardless of the decision.
He was surprised I walked back my decision, and I felt shame for taking the path of least resistance. The greater humiliation came as my lack of resolve was discovered by my team. Despite their efforts to support the policy, I had caved. My credibility sank and there was confusion about our policy. I was experiencing and deserving my lowest leadership moment.
Later that day I met with my team, shared my mistake, reinforced the importance of the policy, and resolved to be a stronger leader. As new exception requests came in, I stood firm and my credibility began to return.
Three keys to effective decisions and standing firm:
Standing firm is not standing by yourself
Leaders need the ideas of others to be their best. While the decision is yours, leaders need to promote fair process where voices can be heard. If we discourage or disregard alternative perspectives, we can create an echo chamber where the only voice you hear is your own or others who always agree with you. Have your feet in the right place – with others.
Strength & Warmth
Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker was often referred to as the “velvet hammer”. He was a great communicator and had a steely resolve inside. Leaders who blend great interpersonal skills with a firm resolve attract followers and get sustained results. They understand the need to blend strength and warmth.
Decide & Adapt
Some leaders delay decisions, or change decisions, because not all the information is available. They wait until a product or service is almost perfect before they sign off to proceed. By then, the opportunity may be obsolete. Effective leaders understand you need to take calculated risks, moving forward with less than perfect or complete information, and adapt through implementation.
Standing firm when the right call has been made is the hallmark of effective leadership. The right call is not the perfect decision – it is our personal best. Make the call and don’t walk it back – we will follow you.
Leading Your Team
A great article on effectively communicating in meetings.
Read to Lead
Leaders benefit from being active readers, long reads not just social media posts and news feeds. A deep read builds concentration, strengthens your intellectual capacity, and offers wisdom you can share. As you refresh or build your reading habit, diversify your experience – old, new, fiction, non-fiction, audio, hard cover, and e readers.
What I have been reading and is currently in my reading queue:
The Optimist by David Coggins
A very interesting book on the sport of fly fishing, an obsession for anglers worldwide. The book has appeal beyond fishing fans, as it captures the frustrations and joy of pursuing your passion. The author travels the world in pursuit of elusive fish, and his story telling skills are excellent.
David McCullough is one of the great United States historians. This book is a collection of his most important speeches. He captures the core values of the United States – reminding us of who we are as a collective society. A great example of reflective thinking, impactful writing, and patriotism.