One of the strange things about this blog is that I get a lot of comments from people, but they're usually in an email instead of commenting on the blog itself. I'm not quite sure why; it could be the topics I write about I suppose. Thus, it's possible that many people are in business and are worried that someone they work with will see their comments or questions and report it back to someone.

defer as a leader

Regardless, I had a few interesting comments on my article titled Making Waves Does Not Make You A Troublemaker many years ago. Everyone agreed, but one person in particular asked how one decides when to stop making waves and move on with life.

It's an interesting question because there's complaining about something you might want fixed, then there's being fixated on a problem to the degree that you can't get beyond it and become, in some eyes, a nuisance. It doesn't necessarily mean you're wrong, but it might mean that your methods for expressing your concern are improper, or you're metaphorically speaking to a wall that's not going to change.

There are two main topics I don't like to talk about all that often, though I do from time to time. One is religion and the other is politics.

I don't like getting too deep into it because people already have their politics set in stone for the most part, even if they say they're independent, and you can go blue in the face trying to convince someone else that you're right, just as they'll do the same trying to show you they're right.

It's the same with religion. People have their beliefs set in stone most of the time, and then it becomes a battle of wills trying to prove which one is better, with both sides quoting the same scriptures at each other while interpreting them in different ways.

In these cases I might state a position, see what comes back, and then decide to move on and not waste my time. I figure I don't have a dog in that show, being atheist, so it means nothing to the improvement of my life or ethics in leaving it alone.

However, when I take a certain position that I feel is somewhat important, as I did when I wrote about the mosque at Ground Zero years ago, I can be a bulldog. That's because there are times when I feel emotions lead people down the wrong path, that being the path of intolerance, and being a diversity guy I just can't have that on my conscience. It's this thing about fairness to all that compels me to say things and keep saying them when needed. I don't do intolerance well, like when I talked about gay marriage.

In business, there are times when you have to decide to defer. On consulting assignments, sometimes I defer to the wishes of the client, even if I believe they're wrong, because they're the ones that have to deal with the long term consequences. There are other times I won't defer, when it involves trying to drag me into something illegal or unconscionable, because I won't violate my own ethics, and I'm not going to jail for anyone.

Sometimes the client doesn't like it; too bad, because the client won't be paying my legal bills if something goes wrong, and they're certainly not going to own up to it on the back end. I wrote a letter for one client who wanted me to do something unethical and asked him to sign it absolving me of any responsibility. He wouldn't, and I said I wasn't going to do it but was saving the letter in my files, just in case; we have to be ready to protect ourselves.

If you put in a well thought out and stated complaint at work and nothing happens, you have to decide how it affects you in determining where you go next. For me, it was always a series of escalations if I had to do it.

Those escalations are different when you're already in a leadership position, but sometimes you do them anyway. I'd talk to the person involved first, express my issue, and tell them what was going to happen next and by when. If nothing happened, I moved to the next person higher up on the chain and stated the same type of thing. If I got no satisfaction I then went to the top with all details written so that there was no question that I was doing what was necessary.

At that point, if the top dog did something about it, I didn't care because I had told everyone what I was going to do; the job is the job. If the top person did nothing then I logged the complaint, dated it, and went about my business; if it involved a complaint from someone else, I'd let them know I went to bat for them. Invariably, if I was proven to be right, I'd have my proof, dated, and the issue would be solved. Lucky for me, I only had to do that a couple of times before people knew I meant what I said.

In other words, you defer when you've legitimately done whatever you believe you can do get something taken care of. Sometimes it's after the initial contact, while other times it's after a series of escalations. You have to be cognizant enough to make the proper determination.

As a leader, you have to be willing to stand your ground, but you also have to be smart enough to know when to do it and when to leave it alone. At least that's how I see things.