Show Deference or Make a Difference?

by  Page Cole  |  Self Leadership
Show Deference or Make a Difference? post image

Deference is defined as “respectful submission or yielding to the judgment, opinion, or will of another”.

Also consider the phrase to make a difference, meaning “to cause a change in one’s situation, circumstances or course of action.”

Is one better than the other? More right? More noble? Of course one is a better choice than the other. Which one you ask? This answer is both.

Being a dynamic and successful leader doesn’t mean you are always right, nor does it mean you always get your way. The wise leader understands that there are times when he or she needs to walk their own ideas back in deference to the ideas or input of their team.

  • It may be because their team member’s idea is obviously the best one on the table.
  • Maybe it’s necessary to let a team member run with their idea to see if they will succeed.
  • More importantly, maybe the leader needs to see how will their team member will react if they fail.
  • The leader who understands which battles are worth fighting and defers in the ones that are not will more than likely succeed in the most important challenges.
  • Leaders increase buy in of their team members when the team sees a leader willing to allow the team to help shape the direction and the mission of the team.

What would you add as a good reason or result of showing deference?

There are other times when a leader simply needs to make a difference. Not every decision or every action deserves a democratic vote or the full support of the team. Real leaders understand that sometimes authentic leadership can be a lonely and difficult task. Leaders who always defer to the political or social winds of change do an injustice to their organization and their cause.

  • Making a difference requires looking at the consequences and course for everyone. Groups tend to focus on the immediate, here-and-now aspects of decisions, and tend to focus primarily on how the decision will affect their group.
  • The successful leader is passionate about making a difference as it relates to core values. Sometimes this is difficult, even costly for an organization. Leaders understand the payoff comes eventually, and are willing to pay the short term costs to hold true to the core values.
  • Leaders don’t just lead, they produce other leaders. As a mentor/leader, it’s critical that they model courage for those they are leading. Leaders push through the waves of discontent of the larger group with passion and fierce determination.
  • Timing isn’t everything, but timing affects everything. Leaders who seek input or show deference may miss a window of opportunity for growth, change or success

What would you add as a good reason to make a difference by leading, even if it’s against the feeling of the group?

The bottom line is simple…there is no bottom line. There is no standard answer. The mark of authentic leadership simply means knowing in each moment whether it’s time to lead by deferenceor lead by making a difference.

How have you practiced difference or deference in your leadership?

About The Author

Articles By page-cole
I’m a dealer in hope… In my career, for seniors who want to stay safely in their own homes… in my family, that our best days are still yet to come… and in my sphere of influence, that we all have the ability to change our world, first and foremost by changing ourselves for the better!  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

johnathan Hines  |  25 Nov 2014  |  Reply

Great article on leadership. This speaks to me, “Leaders don’t just lead, they produce other leaders.”

Chris Wall  |  25 Nov 2014  |  Reply

What a great challenge Page. One of my mentors, Norman Behymer always challenged me as a leader to have the courage to recruit very smart and capable leaders and then let them do their job. He would always tell me that if I was the smartest person in the room, I don’t have the right people on the team. Because of insecurity, many leaders make the mistake of building teams with the people who are easy to lead. Great leaders are those who know how to listen to other people. Deference is critical because to truly accomplish something great, true collaboration of great minds accomplish much more than one person leading a group of yes people. There is a quote in the greatest business book ever written, “The one who walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” Proverbs 13:20. When I hear the word deference, I think of the moments when wise people around me not only made me better, but protected me from some blind spots that were in my life. Deference in the right situation equates to wisdom.

On the other hand, you are exactly correct, there are times when as a leader you have to make unpopular calls. Every great leader will have to stand alone at some point. Your reasons for going against the group is spot on. Allow me to add one more. Leaders of organizations that make a difference, must be willing to take risks. The risks should be calculated and intentional but there will be moments in the life of every leader when a jump into the uncertain will be required. For good leaders, a lot of times those jumps result in great rewards. At the same time, there are also moments when jumps result in falls. When it is successful, the best leaders share the glory. When it is doesn’t turn out, the best leaders accept responsibility. In the midst of the successes and failures of leadership risks, one thing that the great leader must not do is grow to be passive or timid.

Thanks for taking the time to write this article. I was moved by the message.

Kit Williamson  |  26 Nov 2014  |  Reply

Exactly. When attempting to develop a solution you should be looking for the best plan or set of plans regardless of the source. Sometimes we defer to others because we feel they have more experience or we are simply looking for a different perspective which we think they might provide.

Mike Henry  |  26 Nov 2014  |  Reply

Page, thanks for a great post. At the end you challenged me. I agree with your comments about the importance of deference and difference. Sometimes I believe people mistake passivity or disengagement for deference. And sometimes we mistake inconsiderate or dictatorial decision making for making a difference.

But there is (in my opinion) an underlying bottom-line. The choice to be a leader means that the choice between deference and difference is not solely the leader’s choice. It’s a choice the leader makes based on the people, the organization and the purpose they serve. Leaders who choose poorly tend to be those who choose for selfish objectives and reasons. The commitment to be responsible to what’s best for the team, organization and purpose is (at least to me) the bottom-line.

Thanks for a challenging and thoughtful post. You always make me think. Thanks!

Monty McGee  |  26 Nov 2014  |  Reply

Page, great article! Very timely for me right now. You have given leaders something to think critically about in order to become better at what they do and more importantly at how they lead others. Thank you much!

Chris Walters  |  02 Dec 2014  |  Reply

This post reminds me of the importance of using our gift of discernment. Exercising this gift allows the leader to know when to enter the appropriate role. Very good article! #Rightsized too.

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