#Leadership: Pick a Struggle. Pick a Side.

#Leadership: Pick a Struggle. Pick a Side.

Be in it to win it or leave the race.

Nothing good comes from being in the middle of the road. It’s funny we often take for granted little things that have overarching meanings in our everyday life. Take driving.  Learning the rules of the road and using them keeps us and others safe while sending a clear message about the direction we’re traveling.  What happens when we forget these rules? Ever seen the person flying onto an on ramp and merging into traffic without signaling? Or the person who wants to straddle the line on a thin dual-direction road?  On the road and in life one thing is clear: you cannot both be coming and going at the same time.  We can do either but the rules of the road force us to make a choice.

And in our career, what happens when we refuse to choose? Many believe we can straddle the professional line without anyone noticing. With one foot in our current role and the other waiting for the next best thing, we remain unaware that our ambivalence reeks.

It is important that we pick a side.


Adam wrote a blog a while back that was titled Don’t Miss your Bernie moment. The message was in general for leaders of organizations that have gone through major periods of change. The Bernie message was one of transition. It was saying to his supporters that the time has come to move on, united against a common evil, and rally together on a new shared mission. That blog was for leaders at the top of newly merged or fundamentally changed organizations. And it should absolutely resonate for many of you out there.

But there is another message and this is for everyone in the organization under such leaders. And the message is basically that once a leader has articulated the new shared vision for the organization you have a decision to make. Either align with that leader and support the mission, helping to drive the continued success of the organization. Or decide that this mission is simply not yours and move on. You need to pick a struggle. You need to pick a side. Just like being in the middle of the road while driving is not a viable option, being in the middle of the road as a member of a team is unacceptable.

Let’s be clear here. We are not at all saying that adherence to the mission of an organization requires a level of abject acceptance of any decisions that are made and any directions that are delivered. The value you bring to an organization is of course diversity of opinions and the ability to provide input into decisions driving the future of your organization. Never change that. However, there is a base level of acceptance that is required of any player on a major team.

Adam is a very big fan of Arsenal Football Club and anyone who knows the English Premier League teams knows that to some extent each team is fundamentally different than other teams. Their leaders are different and their style of play are also different. If someone joins Arsenal, the expectation is they will bring new talent, new ideas, and new strength to the club. However, they will still play under the style and direction that has been developed over dozens of years. They cannot come in and try to be a rock superstar constantly fighting against the leadership or their fellow team members. It simply does not work.

So, you’re at a Crossroads. You joined the company and you worked for a particular leader for years. You respected that leader and admired his or her vision for the future of the company. You now have been placed under a new leader and you dislike your new mission.

It is time to decide.

Our advice for you:

1) Consider what makes you happy at work. Be very honest and open with yourself. Be sure that you are not letting personal friendships or biases get in the way of sound judgment. I have worked for people who are fantastic people that I truly respected and I liked. But they were not always aligned with me strategically or going in the direction that I actually thought was best for our company.

2) Ask lots of questions and truly get to know the new leader. If you suspect there is a fundamental misalignment with your view of strategic direction for the company, do your research. List out your perceived differences and ask questions that get to a point where you can confirm one way or the other. You may actually be surprised both at your misunderstanding of the misalignment or in your leader’s interest and ability to change based on strong feedback

3) Check the grass on the other side. Research other players in your industry and see if they are going in a fundamentally different direction. It could be that your ideas are not aligned with the way the world is shifting. You could be the one on the wrong side of the road. And hey, we’ve all been wrong sometimes. This exploration of the other side will also help you and your decision to stay or leave for another company. If, after all, other companies in your industry will be going in the same direction, you might be left all alone.

4) Change your way of thinking. Adam wrote a blog on Allies on a Tour of Duty, about investing in talent for the long-term. The concept there was around each role being a different opportunity for you to build on particular skills and learn new ones. Never considering that any would be permanent. Change your way of thinking so that this new strategic direction under this new leader is another Tour of Duty. It’s an opportunity for you to prove that your intellect and your skills are transferable and can be applied under different fields of battle.

5) Determine your time horizon. There is a particular amount of time that you will wait it out and try to make it work before one of two things happens. Either you will become so despondent and disengaged that you will be miserable at work and miserable to work with. Or, your performance will suffer and your contributions will decline and instead of leaving on a high you will leave with an impression a failure. When not happy at work, your performance will suffer and your reputation can as well.

6) Just Leave. If you’ve come to the conclusion that it’s simply not going to work or you don’t want it to then you should do yourself and the organization a favor and respectfully exit. Fortunately, we are not tied to any one company and where we decide to work is a choice.  Choose to be solid teammate and manager, productive and most of all happy…elsewhere.

Choose Your Side

Staying in the middle of the road is not good for any players involved. Your leadership will be disappointed in your performance and your attitude. Your peers will notice your lack of Engagement. And those that do not know you well will brand that as part of your personality and your skill set. And you will be unhappy and feel increasingly disengaged and alone. That is a position that no one wants to be in at work. Therefore, we encourage you to pick a struggle. Pick a side.

Let us know what you think. Have you been in a situation where your colleague was clearly straddling the middle line? Have you managed someone like that?

Be well. Lead On.

This blog was coauthored with Apriel Biggs-Coker, a tremendous leader within my team at Cushman & Wakefield. These are our views and not necessarily those of the company. 

Adam Stanley - Connections blog - Thinking like a disruptor

Adam L. Stanley Connections Blog

Technology. Leadership. Food. Life.


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One Comment

  • Glenn Roeder says:

    Adam and Apriel, some very interesting perception and certainly food for thought especially in large organisations where multi-line management rules your day!

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