True leaders embrace the loneliness of the high road

“I’m going to take the high road because the low road is so crowded.” In this episode, I share my recent struggles with staying on the positive side of approaching a problem while working with a negative teammate. It can be easy for one to go into self-defense mode and make choices at the expense of others, but true leaders will stick to the high road and won’t engage in events where they may compromise who they are as true leaders. The high road isn’t the easy one, but it is often the right one to follow.

In a resource-constrained environment, it can be common for many to first seek self-preservation over accomplishing a team mission. However, a recent interaction with a teammate left me dumbfounded. Background: I was given direction to shift a function currently within my division to another, yet retain a certain amount in order to establish a new function with those existing resources. I won’t get any additional manpower; I need to complete the transition and stand up a new team to perform this function. 

I presented my recommendation to the leadership of the division that would receive this function, who determined that my recommendation wasn’t enough and that all manpower was needed to support the transition. I re-iterated that I can’t give all the manpower because I still have to stand up to the new function. After forty-five minutes of conversation (I do believe opinions and thoughts should be fully heard and considered), I stated:

“I’ve done the homework and provided you what I believe is the minimum working team that can perform the function that is the transition to your team. We can help train more personnel that are currently on your team to help expand the bench, and we are available and vested in that function not failing. We’ve run that function for a long time and know what is needed to keep it running. I need the remaining personnel to build out the new team that our boss wants.” 

“Yeah, I think I’m going to need all of the personnel to run the program. I realize this puts you in a bad spot because you can’t meet the boss’s vision, but we have to make sure the program doesn’t fail when we take it over.”

“We have given you what we believe will keep the program running AND let us start the new teams that the boss wants. We’ve run both programs for a long time and we would not set you up for failure, as it would be a failure on us as well. Do you not trust our recommendation?”

“…I don’t know. I don’t have enough data to know if this is enough.”

At this point in the conversation, I really had to check myself. If I wanted to stay on the high road, I made to maintain composure and not take offense to my fellow teammate saying out loud that he didn’t trust me. I could’ve taken the low road and started jabbing at what I believe was his aversion to risk or inefficiencies in thought and leadership, but I kept my composure and continued:

“But why would I give you less than enough and let the mission fail? I wouldn’t do that.”

“I just don’t know, and I’m not willing to accept with accepting a program when I don’t get resources to do it.”

“That’s exactly the same position I’m in, and I don’t get to say ‘Sir, I don’t accept this program.’ My job as a leader is to get things done with what I have. No one has the perfect amount of manpower, money, or time. Good leaders make due when without.”

In the end, the final decision was made to follow my recommendation and press on. We are in the midst of building out our new team without knowing where the final end state will look like, but we have an idea and what it might look like. As the saying goes, “Perfection is the enemy of good enough.” My tactic of staying on the high ground paid off, but it wasn’t without me recognizing that I had to stay on the high ground and be true to myself. Taking the low ground may have made me feel better at the time, but it could have detracted from one of my core leadership principles: #DBAA (Don’t Be An Asshole) and get the mission done.

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