Selling Inside: The Courage to Stay and Fight

On Tuesday nights at 8:00PM Eastern on Twitter, two super-smart friends I met at SOBcon last year, Lisa Petrilli and Steve Woodruff, host Leadership chat. You can follow or participate by following #leadershipchat.

Last week’s topic was courage and leadership. The first question to the participants was what does courage mean. I suggested that leadership is an act of love, despite the pressure to perform and to do what is expedient.

Steve suggested that leaders follow the Golden Rule instead of the Gold-in Rule, and asked this question: 

It’s a great question. Businesses exist to generate a profit. Great businesses provide something much more than simply profit; the greatest businesses provide meaning for their employees and meaningful results for their clients and customers. The point of Steve’s question is (as I read it anyway): What do you do when a business puts profit before people?

I asked: “Or does it take more courage to stay, to fight, and to make change inside?”

Lisa responded to both if us: “You can stay to prove courage but if your heart s not in it . . . I think it stills go back to love.

I followed up to Lisa suggesting that it takes courage to keep your heart in the fight and to sacrifice for others. That leadership is about love.

Steve concluded that if leadership isn’t committed to courageous integrity, that they shape the culture.

I disagreed.

Steve ended with: “The only way is to have a leader transplant. But people are almost never changed for good by subordinates.”

I believe that leaders can and are changed for good by those they lead. It is never easy, but it has to be done.

Reasonable people can surely agree as to when it is time to stay and fight and when it is time to leave. I haven’t had the same experiences as Lisa or Steve, and I would never suggest that I would stay and fight when they would leave, nor that I wouldn’t leave when either of them would stay and fight.

Some leaders, and some decisions, are so easily immoral and so destructive to make leaving the only choice. But most are something else. If you are going to get results inside your own organization, you are going to have to sell inside and you are going to have to have the courage to stand and fight.

Getting Results Inside

Great leaders surround themselves with people that can see their blind spots and who speak truth to power. Admittedly, it isn’t easy to be a great leader, and many of us struggle with having our many blind spots pointed out, as well as facing the truth. Your leadership isn’t always going to be correct in their decisions. Sometimes they are going to be challenged by issues that require them to balance the interests of their people, their business, their profitability, and their client’s interests–with no easy answers.

Doing business today provides a leader with all sorts of challenges.

It doesn’t matter where you work or for whom you work, you are going to find the seams, the places where the issues and challenges require decisions and trade-offs. I am not talking about the black or white issues or challenges that are easy for a leader with integrity to decide and to act upon. I am talking about the complicated issues where there is more gray than there is either black or white.

Your leadership isn’t going to be perfect.

Leading up means having the courage to address the issues and to lead your leader. It means having the courage to stand and to fight. It sometimes mean sacrificing some of your political goodwill because you care enough about the outcome to fight for what is right.

Leaving isn’t an act of courage. Neither is ignoring the decisions that you believe your leader is making incorrectly and that impacts her integrity, her character, her employees, her company, her clients, or that damages the meaning that the business provides.

Staying and fighting to make change is an act of courage.

Don’t Wait for Perfect. Fight to Make It Better.

You are never going to find perfect leadership with whom you always agree when it comes to the hard decisions. The best you can hope for is to, through your actions, help create a better culture  than would exist without you.

You can’t get things done inside your own organization if you discount your own ability to make change, to influence events and decisions. You can’t get what is right for your clients and your dream clients if you aren’t willing to sell within your own organization and lead your leaders.

You owe your leadership a fight. You owe them your dissent. You owe them a resourceful search for a better answer to the tough challenges. You owe them exactly what you would want from someone in your role were you them.

You aren’t always going to win; sometimes you will lose big (I promise). Sometimes it will feel that you are fighting a thankless and losing battle. But if you are not willing to fight and make change, what will you gain by moving to another company who also has imperfect leaders?

Think about real leaders who faced real challenges when others made really poor decisions when it came to ethics and morality. The history of great leadership doesn’t hold the highest place for people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Mohandas Gandhi because they decided not to fight. They are great leaders because they stood and they fought; they are great leaders because of their great courage and because they kept their hearts in it.

You don’t have to be King, Mandela, or Gandhi to make your own culture. But you can lead with courage. You can lead up, whether it’s your sales manager, your vice president of sales, or the CEO of your company.  The same attributes that help your create change outside of your company are the same attributes you need to make change in your own company. Do you owe your own company any less than you owe your dream clients?

Questions

  1. What does it mean to be courageous as a leader?

  2. Are all decisions easy black and white decisions, or do many of the challenges that leaders face fall into a much larger and more difficult gray area? Are the black and white decisions the easier decisions to make?

  3. When does it take more courage to leave and when does it take more courage to stand and fight inside for the change that you wish to see made?

  4. What is your duty as a leader within your own company when you believe your leader has a blind spot or is making a decision that contradicts what is right, whether it is wrong for the company, for other employees, or for your clients?

  5. If you don’t work to make change within your organization, who will? If it isn’t your job, whose job is it? What if you were the formal leader of your company? What duty would you expect from those in your charge?

  6. If you are to achieve all that you can for your company and your dream client, you are going to have sell inside. If you left your company, do you believe that another company would not have its own challenges or leaders who are faced with difficult choices that they may sometimes get wrong?

  7. How would you fare if you were held up the same standard as you require of those who lead you? Would you be above reproach when it comes to treating people as well as they should be 100% of the time? Would you be innocent of doing less than you should and choosing what is expedient from time to time? Are you free from blind spots?


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