“Pete” a leader in a new job with a substantial increase in scope and scale, asked me this seemingly simple question: “How do you know when to stand your ground?”
I knew he needed more than my first instinct of “just go with your gut”.
“I’ll stand my ground. And I won’t back down.”
Knowing when to stand your ground is a fine art. Digging in your heals at the wrong time will damage your credibility and impact. Yielding when you shouldn’t, makes for weak leadership and dangerous results.
When To Stand Your Ground
Sometimes it’s clear. If it’s unethical, immoral, illegal, or a violation of human rights, stand your ground, get support, and do what’s right. Jacquie Garton-Smith shares:
It’s reasonable to stand your ground when you have carefully, comprehensively and constructively evaluated the alternatives and it remains clearly the way to go. Good to demonstrate you’ve been open to the options even if the final decision is the same. And of course sometimes a better way becomes evident.
When to Back Down
Of course there are times when backing down is the obvious choice. Backing down makes sense when relationships trump the issue at hand, you need more data, or your team or experts know more. Sometimes ideas are worth giving a try even when you’re skeptical.
Stand Your Ground: Decision Points
But most of the time it’s more murky than that. It’s particularly challenging when your values conflict with company values. I asked some members of Lead Change Group to weigh in:
Consider Your Values – John E. Smith
It seems that two sets of values are in play here: The organization’s values and your personal beliefs about right and wrong. When both are threatened, the decision is easy; you should dig in and insist. You will do so with the full backing of your organization. I think the same can be said when your personal values are threatened, but not organizational values. In these cases, personal considerations around cost loom much larger. In other words, standing your ground may cost you and only the person who may lose can make the decision whether the risk to them is worth the fight. When organizational values are threatened, but not your personal values, I think this is more difficult. You might be called on because of your position to stand fast and fight about something which you have little or no investment. “Standing fast” implies some real passion, and you cannot fake passion at least in my experience.
Seek First to Understand – Chery Gegelman
Reflect a softer light of truth – visualize a candle – on (more complex) issues, giving people time to draw near, to listen more intently, to ponder, to understand and to come to their own conclusions. Being a beacon in a situation that requires a candle is viewed as an over reaction, often times people feel judged, they pull away and nothing changes. Being a candle in a situation that requires a beacon is an under-reaction and will not move people to action, so the risk grows. For more read here
Find the High Ground – Mike Henry Sr.
I catch myself trying to always find the highest ground to make my stand. The organization’s success may require me to do something a harder way than simply “my way.” Sometimes a key to standing my ground this time may be based on credibility I’ve earned from previous episodes. So I try to “stand my ground” when I believe I am on the highest ground and be a valuable team player in every other case.
Take the Long View – Susan Mazza
I think the key to making a good choice comes down to being able to distinguishing the difference between when you are standing for something that really matters for the future vs. digging your heels in to be right or prove a point in the moment.
Focus on Effective over Right – David Dye
Leaders who insist on being “right” sacrifice relationships and results. Standing your ground for principles and values is important – both for the organization and the individual. Standing your ground for the sake of preference or convenience often damages the relationships and fails to accomplish the needed results.