Standing Alone

So much of leadership training is about team-building and collaboration. I say, “That’s all very important, but there will come a time when you will have to stand alone and say, ‘This is wrong’ or 'This is my responsibility—I don’t agree with you, and I’m going to do what I think is right.' "

- Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense

Excerpted from A Legacy of Leadership.

It’s one of the great paradoxes of leadership.  In order to lead, there must be followers. Yet, in many of the most crucial leadership situations, it’s up to the leader, who stands alone, to say aloud that which must be said. It might be painful for the leader or the audience, but so be it. These are the moments when true leadership shows its face.

Does it take courage? Yes.

Does it require a moral high ground? Absolutely.

This speaking up is tricky business though. Courage and moral fortitude may be the impetus for opening one’s mouth, but how one says it determines if the leader remains an island or becomes a catalyst for change. Savvy leaders know how to speak up in a way that doesn’t shame their followers or embarrass their bosses. They can get peers on board by appealing to the greater good without being seen as brown-nosers. They manage to come across as sincere without being preachy. They are confident, but not cocky. They are assured in their position, but open to dialog.

They know themselves.

It’s in this knowing that true influence shows itself. Anyone can open his or her mouth and speak up. It’s what happens after that first word emerges that is the true test of influential leadership.

Have you ever had to stand alone?  How did you find the words to do so in a way that helped move your cause forward?