A few years ago, overwhelmed and exhausted, I found myself sitting across the table from a long-time friend and mentor. I had asked her to meet me for coffee because I needed help sorting through a crisis that was sinking me and my team, fast. My hands were shaking; my emotions were raw.
My team and I had been given the task of implementing a decision that we vehemently (and quite vocally) disagreed with for a lot of reasons. Fundamentally, the reasoning behind the decision made logical sense. The timing and approach demanded for implementation however, were going to be disastrous. As in, lots of casualties. And guess who was in charge of implementing?
After bringing my friend up to speed and spilling my guts about the hurts and disappointments, I finally shared with her how I really felt: like I was backed into the corner and just didn’t have a choice. My team and I had been asked to implement this decision by senior leadership and the only choice we had was to suck it up.
And then my wise friend leaned in, looked me square in the face and said words I will never forget, “Oh Julie, you always have a choice.”
The following email question reminded me of this coffee conversation:
“What do you do when your boss asks you to execute a decision that you don’t agree with?”
The following are a few tips for navigating these waters:
- Determine why you disagree with the decision. Is it an ethical or moral issue? Is it a decision made with glaring blind spots or missing information? Is it steering you away from the vision of the organization? Is it something with minor or major ramifications? Is it something you just don’t want to do? Defining the why is critical for determining how to move forward.
- Voice your concerns. Respectfully. And obviously, if there are ethical and moral issues at stake, involve the appropriate levels of leadership or HR representation.
- Re-frame the decision. Dan and Chip Heath in their book, Decisive, remind us that we often frame decisions way too narrowly as “this or that”. Option A or B. Instead of just stating all the reasons why the decision is bad and will never work, offer other solutions. Suggest another creative option outside the original frame.
Ultimately, you’ve got to be willing to accept the consequences of what YOU decided to do. Because you always have a choice. Implement the decision even though you disagree with it, or don’t. Either way, there are consequences for you and your organization.
What my wise leader friend told me over coffee was that even when I thought I had no choice, I still could have said, “No. If you really think this is what needs to happen, I support you in finding someone else to implement.” I wish a million times over in this situation, and countless others, that I had realized I had a choice.
From that day forward in my leadership, I have been using my “no” and my creative 3rd options more often. My hope is that in the long run, these choices will save me, my teams, and our organizations a lot of hurt and a lot of therapy bills.
*This is obviously a touchy topic for lots of reasons. A couple of books I would recommend close to this topic are: My Answer Is No (If That’s OK with You) by Nanette Gartrell, MD and Take The Risk by Ben Carson, MD