Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Leadership and the Loud (but small) Crowd

This post is for all the young leaders out there, because the old ones like me will know exactly what I’m talking about.

I hope you feel the internal struggle between taking bold action or staying the course, for that is the journey of a leader.  Should you be aggressive in your vision, or patient and methodical?  Should your leadership be defined by your ability to shake things up, or your ability to be a steward of something that’s already working?  All of these choices are fine, admirable, and acceptable.

However – let me speak to the side of you that wants to do something daring and compelling.  From my experience in organizational life, there is one barrier above all others to your efforts:

The loud vocal minority.

I have seen time and time again a leader or a group of leaders walk down an exciting path of new ideas and compelling new strategies only to be halted in their journey by someone who says “yeah, but [insert name here] won’t like it.”  And then it begins.  The retreat.  The belief that because a certain person or group of people won’t like an action or might even be angered by it, we should stop and reconsider.  And that thinking typically leads to the new ideas being revoked or tamped down so much they might as well have been.

I wonder, in the history of organizational life, what earth-shattering, life-changing, and gloriously-brilliant ideas have never seen the light of day out of fear that a small group won’t like them.

And in membership organizations especially, the threat that a segment of members will leave our ranks paralyzes us way too often.

Let me be clear – I believe the minority opinion is important to hear.  And I think the “squeaky wheels” deserve to be heard as well.  However, that’s why we have a democratic process and procedures like Roberts Rules of Order.  The minority opinion should have an opportunity to persuade others, and it should be made difficult to discount their feelings.

My problem is that those feelings often stop us from even putting forth an idea worth pursuing.  And that the next great idea dies in a committee meeting because we’re scared to make someone mad, or to deal with the slings and arrows of controversy.  The vocal minority tends to overrun the silent majority every time and holds leaders hostage in the process.

We all have these individuals in our organizations.  Those who have held on to even a shred of influence enough to make us overly-cautious.  The unfortunate reality is that we’re often waiting for those individuals to leave our organization (or die) before we try something we should have done years ago.

My advice in these situations is to remember that as a leader, your oversight is to the entire organization, its mission, vision, history, AND membership, NOT just those constantly noisy, angry, and change-averse.

We imagine a mob at the front door ready to attack us, but it never actually comes.  We believe that a string of posts on our Facebook page that opposes our ideas means the whole world is against them.  We imagine our legacy to be tarnished by a battle with an old guard, whereas I've seen it bolstered instead.  I believe, and have borne witness to, that the pain we imagine from going against the loud vocal minority is far greater than the pain we actually feel.   

The regret of giving up on something that could have changed the fortunes of your organization likely feels much worse.

There are some reasons not to act on your own ideas and vision.  Make sure that a few angry phone calls, or tweets, or Facebook posts are not one of them.  Trust your instincts and do what’s best for your organization.

And remember this quote from Deepak Chopra: Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future. 


1 comment:

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