Great Leaders Value Goodness, Not Just Rightness

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When I first began leading a big change initiative in my organization, I made plenty of mistakes. The most significant mistake was in how I communicated our need to change.

Looking back, my words and actions implied that the organization and its leaders had been doing everything wrong (though I don’t think I ever used those words). I had discovered the “right way,” which we were all now going to follow.

While it was true that the organization needed to change, my approach was offensive to some people who had been working really hard with the best of intentions for a long time. Was I saying that all of their years of effort were wasted?

The truth is there were a lot of people doing a lot of good things. But often the biggest enemy of doing what’s best is an exhausting list of other noble things to do. What do you do when everyone’s so busy doing good things that there seems to be no effort going toward doing the necessary things? There’s only so much capital (money, time, personnel) to go around, so if we’re going to focus on the most important things, we often need to stop resourcing some good things.

How do you tell people they need to stop doing good things so that the organization can start doing the necessary things? What if some of those good things have become “sacred cows” to people who will naturally be offended when they hear that what they’re doing isn’t valued anymore?

The important lesson that I took too long to learn is this: Leaders lead people, not just ideas. And people follow GOOD leaders, not just RIGHT leaders. Every leader should make sure they and their people are focused on the right things and rejecting the wrong things. But the language we communicate with is critical. Rather than talk about what people are doing in terms of right and wrong, we must acknowledge and appreciate what people are doing that is good and challenge them to move toward what is best.

We have a lot easier time asking people to change if we first acknowledge and appreciate their virtues, treating them with respect and dignity, not condescension. One of my favorite leaders today, author and apologists Ravi Zacharias, frequently reminds his readers to win people, not arguments.

Yes, leaders must sometimes fight for what is right. But it’s rarely necessary to sacrifice being good to be right. Sacrificing good to be right is the fast track to losing credibility. Trust me, I’ve been there.

People will remember how you treated them long after they have forgotten what you were right about. So let’s consider whether we can lead by putting away our swords rather than falling on them.

For discussion:

  1. How have you challenged people to change while preserving their dignity and encouraging them to improve?

 

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Published by Jay

Jay Pullins has been leading and developing leaders in a variety of settings for over 25 years. He has a diverse background as a military officer, an appointed public official, and Executive Pastor of Alaska’s largest church. Jay is the founder and owner of Anchorage-based Catapult Leadership Solutions, providing expertise in developing the character and competency of leaders in all sectors. A 1989 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, Jay led U.S. and multi-national teams for the U.S. Air Force, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), NORAD, and the Alaska National Guard. He led combat crews as an Air Battle Manager in Operation DESERT STORM, the conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, and counter-drug operations in Central and South America. Jay retired as an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel in 2011. Jay served as Chief of Staff to the Lieutenant Governor, then Special Assistant to the Governor of Alaska. He also served as Executive Pastor of ChangePoint church for five years. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the US Air Force Academy, and a Master’s Degree in Adult Education from the University of Oklahoma. He serves as a consultant and coach to church leaders for 3dMovements, and serves on the Board of Directors for Beyond Borders and the Conflict Resolution Center. Jay and his wife, Sonia, live in Anchorage, Alaska, and have two grown sons.

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