Be sure you put your feet in the right place, and then stand firm.
— Abraham Lincoln
How often do you witness a leader taking a stand on an issue or for a cause? For many, it doesn't seem to be nearly enough. Most people say that they can't get a decisive judgment from their leaders. Instead, their bosses try to please everyone by waffling on issues or saying one thing to one person and something different to someone else. And, in the process, they appear indecisive, thereby not pleasing anyone.
In their book, "The Truth about Leadership," James Kouzes and Barry Posner describe Truth No. 8 as "You either lead by example or you don't lead at all."
They write, "leadership is waiting for you every day to take action. It's waiting for you to show others that you mean what you say. As a leader you are responsible for modeling behavior based on your values — in plain view of those you expect to follow those values."
If you continually change your actions on an issue, people are confused about what you stand for. You have to find your spine. If you do nothing about an issue, people see that and form opinions about how you feel about the issue. Take something like discrimination. Suppose you realize that some of your managers are treating people differentially — based on rank or gender or race, etc. And you do nothing about it. What happens? They believe you either don't care about the issue or that you condone the discriminatory behavior. Is this the message you want them to believe about you or not?
So why do leaders have so much trouble taking a stand? Like anyone, they are fearful of having some people dislike them or voice contrary views. Or, they may have difficulties dealing with conflict. And like any of us, they can be swayed by the squeaky wheels — those people who argue the most forcefully.