Let’s face it – no matter what our aspirations, most of us leaders will never ascend beyond middle management. That’s because unless we are a CEO of a company without a board (or we are ALSO the board chair), we all answer to somebody.
This perpetual state of “rock, meet hard place” means that leaders are constantly being asked to implement ideas, policies, projects, and other shenanigans they absolutely do not agree with. And even more, they know their employees will not agree with them, either.
The challenge is always knowing when to fight and when to support. In general, the rule of thumb has always been “fight up, complain across, support down.” Which…mostly works. It’s important that leaders know how to pick their battles and when to gain and spend political capital.
On the other hand…
There are times when your team really needs to see that you’re fighting for them. They need to believe you, their leader, has their back when they aren’t around to see it. They need to see that you are human, that you recognize when a policy from the higher ups seems contrary to the organization’s stated values, and that you are willing to stick your neck out for something that’s important.
Leaders, you won’t win on these. Most of the time the decision has already been made and you’re basically just fighting a whirlwind. You’ll be told you have your marching orders and that it’s happening with or without you, so it might has well be with you.
How you decide to react to that statement is up to you.
What I can tell you is that your team notices when you fight for them and with them. They know most of these issues are a losing battle. They know you’re putting your neck on the line. And because of that, they will be in that battle with you.
That means you have to be smart. That means you fight when it matters, not when you’re feeling petty. That means you explain why you’re fighting – so make sure the reason is worthy.
Being a leader means finding a balance in that gray area of supporting the organization’s mission and purpose and railing against anything that seems to be against the mission and purpose. Being a leader means knowing you will fight many times, and you will lose.
But being a leader also means showing your employees that with power comes responsibility, and being a manager sometimes means pushing back on authority now and then when the issue is important. It shows your employee you support them…and you expect them to also push back when the issue is important. Because informed dissent breeds innovation, and permission to dissent respectfully builds trust.
Yes, leaders. You will lose the occasional battle. But you just might win the war.