Great Leaders Disagree & Commit
When I made a move from the East Coast to the Intermountain West, I found myself in what some might call a radically different work environment. Some fans of a more direct approach might call it “honesty vs. dishonesty.” The same principle but viewed from the more “compassionate” side might call it “heartlessness vs. empathy.” But inside of the change in styles, I was witnessing a real cultural challenge around the vulnerability and honesty to share what you feel as a leader rather than shy away from your own thoughts; sharing your instincts and feelings instead of hiding them for fear of offending.
Now I, for one, believe you can be honest about others’ performances or behaviors, your feelings on a matter that a colleague may feel differently on, or any other concept with which an organization is struggling without offending others. You can be direct, honest, and empathetic all at once… and for most of us, with practice, we can do it and have others feel our vulnerability and genuine concern.
Tomasz Tunguz, a venture capitalist at Redpoint, recently wrote about this topic. He skews toward the direct approach clearly but has elements of empathy in his writing as well. It’s worth reading his thoughts. One statement he makes is a quote from a well-known supporter of direct feedback, Jeff Bezos of Amazon:
Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit. “Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.”
Yes, it does require backbone to be direct. However, it also requires empathy to maximize leadership impact. Directness without empathy relies upon a leadership based on fear. But directness paired with empathy is true leadership.