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Leadership Lesson 15 – Never Compromise

By: Curt Stowers

So, you've built the best team in the world, given them all of the tools, provided a great environment, and let them know you care. You're done right? WRONG! If you want your team to follow you, to buy in to your vision, to be 100% committed, they have to know that you are willing to fight for them at all costs.

Rule #15 - Advocate for your team regardless of the impact to you.


It would be a wonderful world if everything went smoothly all of the time. Alas, we do not live on Lake Wobegon. We live in a world where change is constant, challenges are never ending, and there is always more to do than time available. Ultimately, we end up in situations where decisions must be made. We live in a world where tradeoffs are factored in. So we barter, horse trade, and make deals. That's reality and everyone knows it.

However, HOW and WHAT you trade off is critical. Each of your team has his/her special beliefs and/or those things that are deeply personal to them. Ironically, it is often not something that you consider "big" that is most important to them. However, to them it is huge. It could be the old chair that they love, the need to leave at 2:00 on Mondays to attend to some personal task, or the desire to host the annual Christmas party. While these don't seem "big," they are often enormous:

  • The old chair may be critical, as it's the only one that is comfortable and gives them relief from their chronic back pain.
  • The early departure may be to help at the local shelter for homeless families.
  • The desire to host the Christmas party may be because they don't have any close family, and this is their personal Holiday celebration.

What seems inconsequential to you is actually critical in their life. And, in each of the above cases, you'll have to make decision on whether or not you bend when the powers that be identify a "must do.” Perhaps it's an edict to switch everyone to the new furniture, a mandatory meeting, or someone else's Christmas party on the same day. You have to decide where you'll advocate. And it had better be on behalf of your team.

Now by design, I chose examples that are ancillary to "normal" work. That's for two reasons. First, when it comes to work issues, alignment is often high, our team delivers great results, and it's easy to advocate for them. They have a track record of success, and you sticking your neck out for them is not really risky at all. In fact, others know your team's reputation and will often acquiesce easily. Hence, advocacy in these situations is easy and rarely puts you at any personal risk. You need to advocate in this manner; however, this type of advocacy is relatively easy and you’re really fighting for the corporate objective versus for them personally.

Second, contrary to popular opinion, there's more to life than work. It's these non-work activities and interests that are often the most critical to your team. And, accordingly, they must be the most critical to you. Furthermore, it's exactly these strange or abnormal requests that put you at the most risk professionally. There is NOT any apparent, visible benefit to you or the organization by advocating. The request is not rational on the surface. And yet the reality is that these are the most rational requests in our team’s mind; and, accordingly they are the most important issues for which we must advocate.

I've had the chance to work for a lot of different people over my career. However, one stood out for me in this particular area -- Larry Newbanks. I watched repeatedly as Larry would advocate for his team. No matter what the situation, no matter what the cost, he always supported his team. Now sometimes it did not work out so well for him personally. But I guarantee you this: whenever Larry needed something from me, whenever I had a task to complete, I made darn sure it was done properly.

I knew that Larry was going to fight tooth and nail for the causes that I asked him to support. And, for that reason, I wanted to be doubly diligent in all my activities. I knew Larry was my advocate. My voice. And that always caused me to go the extra steps when Larry asked me for anything. His advocacy, his leadership, made me a better person. That lesson has stuck with me over time.

ACTION ITEM 15 - Sit down with each of your team. Ask them to identify their one biggest work goal and one biggest personal goal where they need your help. Do everything in your power to make sure they get the required support.


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