We are living in an interesting age. As leaders, we are being called to claim our power, stand up for what we believe in and fight for what we think is right . . . . . but we must not offend anyone. Express yourself and be authentic . . . . but make sure everyone is comfortable with what you say. That’s a double bind if I’ve ever seen one. No wonder we all feel crazy and are afraid to claim our power as leaders. Double binds make us feel crazy. They create emotionally distressing situations where two directives are given and following one means you disobey the other. They set us up for failure.
Sadly, what many leaders (especially women) do to avoid the trap of the double bind is to water down their opinions so they are more palatable for general consumption. They white wash their message so it is softer and easier on the ears (and egos) of the listeners. They fit in and blend with public opinion on the path of least resistance. They are liked, but they aren’t effective. Their message isn’t motivating . . . or sometimes even relevant.
Research has shown that successful people and companies have a higher purpose, something bigger than themselves that they stand for, that guides them in their decision making. Every opportunity that arises and every decision that needs to be made is examined through the lens of the higher purpose. A higher purpose is a bold, daring statement – a declaration about what you stand for as a leader.
That brings us back to the double bind, doesn’t it? If you are bold and daring and stand up for what you believe, you will offend people. You will open yourself up to criticism. Yes, yes you will. I love what Winston Churchill says about making a stand, “You have enemies? Good, that means you have stood up for something sometime in your life.”
Here is the raw truth. You can’t be an effective leader of anything if you don’t stand for something. Taking a stand will offend people. There will be some people who openly criticize you and express their dislike of you loudly and publically. It is really easy to offend people. In fact, there are quite a few people out there looking to be offended. They see themselves as victims and anyone who expresses an opinion that challenges their victim story, victimizes them further. They are looking for a cause to rally support for their victim status and you may be it.
You have to decide if what you stand for is worth it. Are you willing to offend others to speak what you know to be the truth? If you are, you will find that there are many people who are hungry for what you have to say, resonate with your higher purpose and are in need of your leadership. But you are never going to find those people if you don’t take a bold stand. And those people are never going to find you if you have watered down and white washed your message so that it blends in instead of standing out.
Making a bold stand and knowing that you are going to offend people doesn’t mean that you get to be rude, down-putting or vulgar. Name calling, stereotyping, excessive profanity and needing to make others wrong for you to be right is the shadow side of leadership. It’s bullying, plain and simple. You can be bold and powerful AND kind and compassionate. Mother Teresa is an excellent example of someone who stood for something big, made powerfully bold statements that polarized people and was the embodiment of kindness and compassion.
So be an effective leader. Get clear on what you stand for. Turn it into a bold statement. Put it out there in the world as kindly and compassionately as you can, as often as you can. Welcome the criticism and rejoice when people don’t like what you say. That’s how you know you have hit a nerve and are talking about something relevant. For every person that is offended, there are many who need to hear what you stand for.
I’d love to hear what you stand for. Make your bold statement in the comments below.