Bob's Gutsy Leadership Blog

Avoid Making Enemies; But Make the Decision!

One of the key attributes of a strong, courageous leader is the ability to get people to pursue an aggressive plan for improvement.  In doing so, lots of dialogue takes place as the plan is developed, with particular emphasis on trying to make the dissenters understand the thinking, even though they may not agree.

In dealing with those that may not agree, one thing you want to avoid is telling them they are wrong.  Dale Carnegie, the famous motivational writer and speaker of many decades ago, used to warn people that you can tell people they are wrong in many different ways, not just confronting them verbally.  You can do so with a look or an intonation or a gesture just as easily as you can in words.   He believed that if you do somehow communicate that they are wrong, you will never get them to agree with you, for you have struck a direct blow at their intelligence, judgment, pride, and self-respect.   You may present to them all the logic and data you have at your disposal, but you will rarely alter their opinions, for you have hurt their feelings.

There are many famous quotes that relate to this topic of getting someone to change their mind.  For example, over 300 years ago, Galileo said:

You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him to find it within himself.

Lord Chesterfield, the famous British statesman and man of letters, once said to his son:

Be wiser than other people if you can; but do not tell them so.

So…what is a good approach for dealing with a person who makes a statement you think or know is wrong?  An often mentioned approach is to begin by saying: “Well, I may be wrong, and I often am, but I think otherwise.  If I am wrong, I want to learn where I am off track.  Let’s examine the facts.”

What the gutsy leader realizes is that with tough decisions, you will never get everyone to agree.  On the other hand, the strong leader listens to all the arguments, probes for understanding, avoids telling people they are wrong, and then steps back and decides.  He or she clearly explains to the troops that after hearing all the arguments and discussing all the facts and options, you have made your decision.  You describe the decision and your thinking, and then you move on to the implementation phase.

Net, try to avoid making enemies, but do face the fact that leaders need to lead; and that often means making tough, non-unanimous decisions.

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