Tuesday, February 23, 2010

got a position? Consider the lawn chair

Photo by eileenberedo from Flickr
Here in Washington, DC, and perhaps in your company, agency or organization, there are plenty of leaders who've dug themselves so far into their public positions that they may as well put a plastic lawn chair on them to mark them as their own--as residents here have been doing with parking spaces they've labored over in our recent historic snowstorms.  (Actually, any chair will do, parking is so dear right now. I've seen folding chairs, office swivel chairs, dining room chairs, you name it.)

Sure, you want to appear firm, confident, forward-looking and decisive--or your CEO does. Sure, you don't want to give your opponents/critics/skeptics room to pounce and parse your selected stance.  And yes, you want to be strongly associated with this viewpoint.  So what's the problem?

It's the same problem my lawn-chair-wielding neighbors have. Someday soon, perhaps sooner than you think, you may have to move from that position you've dug yourself into.  Someone will move your plastic lawn chair and occupy that space in a better, smarter, faster way--or you may find yourself having dug into and decorated a position you can't defend any longer, no matter how good it felt at one time.  You may, in fact, want to park your principles elsewhere.

It's a prospect worth considering before you make public pronouncements about where you stand (or park).  Too many leaders feel the need to underscore their firm principles with absolutes -- "The day will never come..." or "As God is my witness, we will fight this to the death" -- that are, er, awkward at best to avoid when your posture shifts.  A sound strategy for announcing a major position will include discussion of what will happen when and if there's a change of mind, circumstances, money or other factors that can push you out of that well-dug-out parking space.

And if you get there--when you get there--I'd love it if you'd consider sharing the truth with your key audiences.  "We're committed to the goal, but the funding just isn't there," is good, but even better is "I've had a change of heart, and here's why."  There's no crime in leaving that well-dug-out parking space, you know (although it apparently is illegal to put your plastic chair in it here in the District of Columbia).  Tell us where you'd rather park and why, and maybe we'll follow you there.  Choices like a stoic defense, ignoring the change and hoping others will follow suit, or brushing it off as unimportant all seem so 1970s in this day and age.  Make the change authentic and transparent, and your credibility will soar.

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