When To Stand Your Ground

When To Stand Your Ground

“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.

Your Turn: What advice do you have for “Pete?”
Filed Under:   Communication, Results & Execution
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

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What People Are Saying

Jon Mertz   |   22 January 2014   |   Reply


A great questions and insights offered. To know when to stand your ground goes to having a leadership philosophy. When we spend the time to define how we will lead, we will then know more intuitively when to stand our ground. Otherwise, we may just blow in the wind rather than face the headwinds at the right time. Spend the time to define your leadership philosophy. Doing this won’t make leading easier but it will make it more consistent and character-based.



letsgrowleaders   |   22 January 2014   |   Reply

Jon, Beautiful insights. I so agree. Having a solid leadership philosophy really matters in so many contexts. Thank you.

Ali Anani (@alianani15)   |   22 January 2014   |   Reply

Karin- I am standing my ground. I feel I am standing on a sinking sand. Sinking values, ethics, morality, cheating and other evils. However; my heart is rising up. The sinking sand gives me the push up.
I want to say that true leaders understand, admit taking wrong decisions and they correct and learn from them. They make sand of evil sink only for them to rise up.

letsgrowleaders   |   22 January 2014   |   Reply

Ali, Thanks for your poetic response. We must stand strong on our own even in slippery contexts.

David Spell   |   22 January 2014   |   Reply

I have no better advice than to read the advice published in this post. “Be a candle.” “Focus on effective first”. Words of wisdom! Thanks for the inspiration!

letsgrowleaders   |   23 January 2014   |   Reply

David, Thanks so much. Great to have your voice in the community.

bill holston   |   22 January 2014   |   Reply

Great, I loved Jon’s comment. I try very hard to be a servant leader. This informs me on how to respond to issues. Standing my ground feels like it’s something that happens in the moment, but it really isn’t. It should be based on a background of explaining yourself clearly, taking the time to communicate decisions well, and LISTENING. Then you reach the point of deciding whether based on an important principle it’s time to stand. thanks for another thought provoking discussion.

letsgrowleaders   |   23 January 2014   |   Reply

Bill, you may also enjoy Jon’s post on building a leadership philosophy

I so agree with you… it does FEEL like it happens in the moment, but really is not. That’s why this was such an interesting process for me to consider how I make such decisions, that seem to just come from the gut.

Steve Borek   |   22 January 2014   |   Reply

It all depends on the situation.

If the other parties thoughts or actions are not in line with my values, if it’s immoral, I won’t back down.

Otherwise, I seek to understand and find a middle ground.

letsgrowleaders   |   23 January 2014   |   Reply

Steve, Thanks so much. The time spent on seeking middle ground is so often the best course for all.

Jim Ryan   |   22 January 2014   |   Reply

I sometimes see people aggressively standing their ground, when they should be assertively standing their ground. The difference is that when the no comes you accept it and you don’t undermine the descission.

letsgrowleaders   |   23 January 2014   |   Reply

Jim, An important distinction… thanks so much for adding that.

Bill Benoist   |   22 January 2014   |   Reply

There have been a few instances where I stood my ground and probably should not have. There have been instances where I look back and wish I did stand my ground. All because I made a decision in the heat of the moment without considering.

My advise: walk away and count to the proverbial 10 and then ask yourself, if it was five years down the road, what would have been the right decision?

letsgrowleaders   |   23 January 2014   |   Reply

Bill, me too. Great advice to distance yourself and have time to consider.

LaRae Quy   |   22 January 2014   |   Reply

Great insights, Karin. You’ve cherry-picked from some of the best thought leaders out there and offered solid advice.

Loved it!

letsgrowleaders   |   23 January 2014   |   Reply

LaRae, Thanks so much. I love working with the Lead Change Group… they’ve always got great insights.