Carrying Out Decisions You Do Not Agree With
Being the boss is easy they said. It will be good for you they said. Only they forgot to mention that life as a middle manager includes decisions made over your head by senior leadership, and that means decisions that go against what you may have done, had it been up to you. Sometimes you are part of the decision process, and other times the decision is simply handed down (what? You thought this was a democracy?). Either way, you are now responsible for ensuring that the plan is carried out, and it can feel a lot like being held against your will. It is deeply frustrating, not to mention stressful, to have to be the bearer of a decision that you do not fully support.
You put on your brave-boss-face and you soldier on. Although, this may happen after you have been tempted to tell your peers or your direct reports your true feelings. You may feel a surge of rebellion rising up behind your tongue and the urge to throw your hands up and yell f*** it! But remember, your JOB is to support your organization and to aid in its success, not undermine authority.
Time for the hard questions. How much do I trust the judgment of this organization? How aligned am I with the decisions the company is currently making? How else can I effect change? If the answers to these questions get you to shaking the 8-ball on your desk, it may be time to start reconsidering your employment. In other words, if your intuition is telling you that these decisions are no longer aligned with your integrity and purpose, it may be time to start looking for another job. On the other hand, if you do feel that the organization can be trusted, then it’s time to start convincing yourself that the decision is being made in the best interest of the greater good. Sometimes, having blind faith can feel pretty scary and it’s not uncommon for our own fears and doubts to cloud our perspective on management decisions, especially when we are the ones responsible for going to the mountaintop and sharing these changes with the people who have in many senses entrusted us with their own well-being.
For me, as a first time supervisor, there were many times when the senior leaders, in their infinite wisdom, would make decisions that not only my boss didn’t like, but that we supervisors were tasked with delivering to our staff. As policy and staffing changes would occur, my team began to delight in what had become my go-to consolation: “It will get better.” And with each parcel of “bad news”, upper management would approve a few extra dollars in the budget to the department to help boost morale, and thus, the pizzas would flow freely. It didn’t take long for the employees to figure out that the pizzas meant shit was bad, and the supervisors and managers didn’t like it either.
But, it would get better.
What I learned was people are smart and fear is real if you believe it is. Your employees will typically catch on to what is and is not within your control. Whether or not this happens is not really as important as it is for you to see this as an opportunity. Instead of shoving the decisions down my staff’s throats, I would serve as their conduit for questions and concerns, and I would encourage them to share those thoughts and feedback respectfully. I would take notes, and if I didn’t know the answers, I would get them more information. We would collectively review the factors that would be considered from other departments and the organization as a whole. Objections were welcome.
Steer the conversation away from “why” and start focusing on the “how”: how can we look at this another way? This whole process would start with my team, once I had finished doing this for myself. I had to take a step back and dispel my own power blocks (assumptions, interpretations, limiting beliefs) about the situation. Once I had let some reasonable rationalizations set in around the decision was when I could reasonably carry out the changes without flinching. Doing this was the greatest good I could do for my direct reports because it allowed them the same courtesy and space to dissent before getting bought in.
The biggest win was not in getting people on board—it was in getting them to think like managers, senior leadership, or owners. It generated a bigger picture outside of their little cube. Thinking bigger empowered each of us to embrace our choice—to stay or go—and be at peace with whatever the outcome was. For those who couldn’t see it, they usually chose to go, and that was okay too. The communication was our ticket to engagement, confidence, and learning how to deal with disappointment. It also helped my staff to continue to trust me in the process. Although they didn’t know whether or not I helped make the decision, they learned to trust that my integrity would not compromise the relationship we had built. Because, after all, the most important decision you can make is to maintain good relations on all sides.