Leadership is not about pleasing everyone!

Last week, I received a scathing comment to my blog Giving up control. While I didn’t agree with the comment, I allowed it to be published and thanked the individual for his opinion. Earlier in my leadership, I may have engaged in an argument with the individual trying to convince him that I was right and he was wrong but, I’ve long past that point in my career. Instead it reminded me that leadership is not about pleasing everyone and in fact if you try to please everyone, you will not lead any substantial change or have any significant impact.

“I don’t see how you can write anything of value if you don’t offend someone.” -Marvin Harris  

Leading requires challenging the status quo. I cannot believe that most leaders are hired to keep everything static! Leadership requires a focus on solutions not problems and moving forward not falling behind. But that does not mean that  fostering effective relationships is not also a part of leadership. You won’t move forward without building authentic relationships with your stakeholders but you also won’t move forward if you try to please everyone! It is a fine line that leaders must walk and often that line moves mid-step! This is one of the many traits that leaders must possess to be truly effective and why there is not an abundance of exceptional leaders. It is extremely difficult for any leader to deal with the multitude of opinions or polarizing expertise and so it is critical that the leader is very clear on the mission. Keeping that in the forefront will assist the leader in carrying on the work in the face of adversity.

This week, I’m serving as a leadership consultant at the National Principal Leadership Institute in New York. The focus of the institute is on designing schools for 2040 and all of the sessions drive home the need for innovation. For too long we’ve talked about school reform while business talks about innovation. Designing schools for 2040 will not be accomplished with simple tweaks or any measure of reform. Schools that will prepare students for their future and not our past will only be achieved through innovation! And innovation, the change required to make schools where they need to evolve to, will not come about without infuriating some. Everybody along the spectrum, from conservative to liberal, will have a point of view on this debate. Leaders must not only understand this but more importantly embrace it! And leaders must not simply take the easy path and settle for the middle because it pleases most. Sometimes the decision rests on the left or right or sometimes it is in the middle but the path must be on what is right, not what is popular.

It will take bold leaders to get us to this point. It will take a person who understands the importance of authentic relationships while also being prepared to stand up to the naysayers, often a very loud minority! Leaders cannot move any organization forward without reaching a tipping point but they will also become stuck in mediocrity if they wait for everybody to come onside before they begin. Create multiple feedback loops, develop a culture of collaboration and seek consultation, but don’t expect to please everyone or you won’t innovate anything! Leadership is not about pleasing or being popular, it is about doing things right and the right thing! Schools for 2040 and more importantly children of today don’t have time to wait to please everyone.

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