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.

Posted in Communication, Results & Execution and tagged , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was recently named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of 3 books: Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. Karin,

    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.



  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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?

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