One of the most challenging aspects of being a leader is having enough conviction to adhere to a decision and not be swayed by the opinions of others at the expense of what’s good for the organization. 

The leaders that can’t do this are described many ways: buffeted by the winds, spineless, and irresponsible.

We imagine that some of you are saying, But isn’t that influence, and isn’t that part of leadership? Influence occurs when you’re presented with relevant data and facts that provide new information. Faced with new information, a leader has to be flexible enough to incorporate that new information and allow it to influence their decision or not. Abandoning your decision in order to avoid criticism or to make someone happy is not about being influenced—it’s a lack of leadership.

We worked with a VP named Vic who had a very big heart. He came in for executive coaching because he had a bad review with a new boss. We learned pretty quickly that he had a very strong need to be liked by everyone, and he was—but he was respected by few in the organization. You see, in his need to be liked, he abandoned one decision after another in order to keep people from being upset with him. His big heart was keeping him from having a strong backbone.

When you lead and manage, you will disappoint some people. That’s the nature of leadership and management. The larger the organization, the greater the likelihood that you’ll disappoint at least one person, if not a whole department. Accepting this and moving forward with important decisions anyway is true leadership.

Vic said he didn’t want to become a jerk, and we assured him that having a heart AND a backbone are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the best leaders have both and balance them well. We worked with our big hearted VP to gather relevant data before making decisions and then coached him to stick with the decision unless HIGHLY compelling data was presented. Justin from accounting being upset isn’t HIGHLY compelling. It’s disappointing to learn he’s upset, but it shouldn’t derail the decision.

Teaching someone to strengthen their backbone is often easier than helping someone strengthen their heart. Vic’s heart allows him to genuinely care about others and to be curious about their experience. His backbone needed to be strengthened so that he could tolerate disappointing others for the good of the whole, because if he couldn’t lead the organization through challenging times, everyone would suffer.

Vic needed to make decisions that he could stick with or he could never be taken seriously as a leader. Being a nice guy only went so far—his inability to make a decision and stick with it was going to keep him from being successful. 

This week, spend some time making sure that your heart and your backbone are appropriately balanced. Your success depends on it.

Until next week,

— Your coaches at Carpenter Smith Consulting

P.S. We know that there’s a fine line between standing your ground and being open to influence. Please write us a note if this is something you struggle with or if you have any questions!