Leadership Thought #285 – Compromise Doesn’t Mean Weakness

January 18, 2012

Compromise is the essence of our democracy

As a student of leadership, it both frustrates and saddens me how rare compromise is these days in both public and professional circles.  We built our society on the foundation of a win-win mindset.   Our founding fathers certainly had a wide range of differing opinions on how to structure our country and government, but after rigorous discussion and debate, they were able to come together around a common set of principles and compromise to launch this new nation.  Some of them were visionaries and idealists, but they were also pragmatists and realists. They fully understood that while it may take a small group of people to start something, it requires a majority to see it through to fruition. Win-lose situations never work in the long term.

No one person is ever always right or always wrong.  Some people may have a better track record than others, but the moment they start believing in their own infallibility and consider themselves beyond reproach, they become vulnerable to the vagaries and nuances of life.  Moreover, they foster resentment and the waning support of others who often wait or even hope for them to fail to validate their own position.  In my experience, groups with a diverse composition of membership usually make better decisions than any one individual.  The landscape of history is full of failed dictatorships, but democracies continue to persist.

Admitting you don’t know enough about something to make a good decision is a sign of wisdom.  Being open to alternative points of view and challenging your own conceits are the pathway to professional maturity.  Listening without judgment is a prerequisite for effective leadership. Arguing for the sake of arguing or being unyielding in your positions are signs of emotional immaturity and intellectual bravado.   This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t remain steadfast to your core principles or have some things that are non-negotiable, but if everything fits this description, then you are nothing more than a roadblock to success and progress.

All organizations are held together by their center, not by their polar opposites.  There is a time for debate and time for compromise.  There is a time to be cautious and time to act.  You will never make everyone happy all the time, but you should engender confidence in most of your colleagues and subordinates that you strive to make well thought out decisions after seeking critical feedback, weighing all the important variables, and finding a common space of agreement. Compromise does not mean weakness; it denotes self-confidence and a commitment to something more important than one’s own ego and insecurities.