25 Jan '11
When leaders receive pushback
As leaders we have limited time, energy and leadership capital. We also have agendas for our team or organization that we believe is helpful and directionally sound which is what leaders by definition do. But not all of those agendas are equally important and some will face significant pushback. Knowing when to yield, when to wait and when to press on is an important trait of a healthy leader.
Pushback from your team (or board) can mean a number of different things. It can mean that they are not ready for your proposal and you need to do additional work to explain or prepare them. It can mean that there is something in your proposal that they are cautious of – which is a good thing to pay attention to as a leader. It may mean that you have not done a good enough job of explaining the benefits of the proposed direction.
When pushback comes the first key is not to react or go on the defensive. Both reactivity and defensiveness send a message that we are closed to dialogue, questions or analysis. And it indicates that getting our way is personal which is the wrong message to send. In fact, welcoming questions, concerns or dialogue and acknowledging their legitimacy brings those who raise them into the proposal in a positive way.
Honest dialogue around the idea you have put on the table – without defensiveness – often leads to additional shaping of your proposal that not only strengthens it but leads to the ownership of others who now also have a stake in the idea. Remember, you have had time to process the idea – they have not. You have put your stamp on the proposal, allowing them to do the same brings mutual ownership.
If after dialogue there is still not mutual ownership or consensus, it is often wise to suggest that the group take more time at a later date to discuss it and simply give it time. Middle and late adaptors need time to process, think and reflect before feeling good about a major decision. Giving it time also indicates that you are not going to “run over them” to achieve your wishes but desire the team or board to be with you in it. Whenever we try to force people to agree we lose leadership coinage because they feel violated and disempowered. Sometimes we simply need to wait until there is better understanding. Waiting is far better than dying on the wrong hill.
Leaders who must get their own way are usually poor leaders who lose the confidence of those they lead. Leaders who respect others, honor process and people in decision making and foster open dialogue along with a willingness to be flexible are wise leaders. Most foolish of all are leaders who in the face of pushback or caution from their board or team simply do what they want to do anyway. Every time that happens they lose significant leadership capital