Leaders: Is Compromise a Strength or Weakness?

We can hope that what is happening in Washington, D.C. over the past decade is not a mirror of what is happening in organizations around the country and world. The environment though sets up a key leadership question:

As a leader, is compromise a strength or weakness?

To ensure we are on the same page as to the definition, compromise is:

“a settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, etc., by reciprocal modification of demands.”

Lead Change Community Insights on Compromise

Each week in the Lead Change Google+ community group, we pose a question and, recently, it was the above one. Highlighted below are some shortened clips of answers from different community members:

Kemetia Foley: I think compromise is neither a strength nor weakness of leadership - it's more a measure of maturity and experience. More experienced leaders tend to have a better gauge of when to hold resolute and when to compromise. Being able to compromise indicates an awareness of the bigger picture and the need to not always be 'right'.

Barry Smith: Compromise on thoughts and ideas is a strength. Compromise on values or integrity is a weakness.

Randy Conley: I would add that compromise is a viable strategy for managing conflict. Whether it's the best strategy depends on the circumstance and the desired outcome.

Kate Nasser: Compromise brings images of giving up -- especially something valuable or something you care about. Thus it has taken on a bad overtone over the years and taints people views. To me compromise is the outward sign of collaboration and represents emotional intelligence and awareness that we are all connected. To me this is a strength....

Paul LaRue: The other application of compromise is how it's used and why it's used. In any relationship, personal, business, political, compromise to reach a common goal within the framework of the established outcome means working together to find the best approach. Like a marriage, compromise is done to create a common harmony and complement. It's not a sign of weakness yet a sign of sacrifice, which is a greater strength.

Terri Klass: I think that when leadership uses compromise to alleviate an impasse, it is definitely a strength… when compromise is used to just move things along and ultimately nothing is truly resolved and no one is satisfied, then that may show a leader's weakness. The best solution is integrating all the ideas into a richer outcome.

David Tumbarello: Leaders need flexibility. Different situations call for different leadership. The "mature" leader is flexible. Leaders need to be above the dichotomy. Leaders need to value safety or health (of team or individuals). Don't compromise on these.

Eva Y Chen: Compromise is important but I think we draw the line where it goes against our core values because that compromises our character. There is always a way to compromise when we understand what is really driving the other party.

Prabhjit Kaur: What I know is that no-one survives without compromise. Everyone must learn to listen, understand the position, adapt, and learn ... all of this requires us to adapt ... and in many cases compromise for the best solution to support everyone ... not just self.

Mike Henry Sr.: Did anyone read The 3rd Alternative by Stephen Covey? He contrasted compromise and synergy.  His comparison was: Compromise - 1 + 1 = 1.5; Synergy - 1 + 1 = 3. Do you catch yourself agreeing to compromise simply because you don't want to invest the effort to create synergy? Or because the other person won't pursue synergy with you?

Jon Mertz: Where compromise may break down is where we place our effort on what we are compromising on. What I mean is are we compromising on a personal principle at the expense of a community one? Do we need to understand the greater good versus the personal interest and balance our leadership appropriately?

Compromise: A Leader’s Strength or Weakness

Compromise is not a dirty word. Let me say this again. Compromise is not a dirty word. There are really tough decisions to be made. No doubt. There are very essential principles that need to remain steadfast. Think trust and honesty. Absolutely. Standing still when our situation requires us to move forward is not a real option. Agree!

Leaders need to lead, and the act of compromising is required during certain times. What leaders cannot do is leave problems unsolved or kick the can down the road.

Leading is not kicking the can. Real leaders pick the can up, understand its’ content, and determine how – whatever is inside – it can be resolved or refreshed to make a larger community better off than they were before. And doing it sooner rather than later. And doing it together – as much as we can. And, often, whatever the can represents will test our leadership strength and integrity. It just will, but this is the call to lead, isn’t it?

So outlined below are three perspectives to use in leading through compromise.

Perspective 1:  Positive intent makes the process of compromise productive.

If you go into a situation requiring compromise, then go into it with a positive attitude on how to bring people together and focus on developing a real, better solution. Others in the room will be different than you and will have different values and ideas on how to solve an issue. Listen positively. Engage with the intent to solve. Keep focused on the larger objective and what it requires.

Perspective 2:  Collaboration is a way to achieve effective compromise.

Collaboration is working together, leveraging another’s strengths and finding ways to create a better solution. Ideas enhanced and supported by a larger group will gain in strength and momentum. Adopt a collaborative mindset and approach to the problem, challenge, choices, and decisions.

Perspective 3:  Synergy is a positive result of great compromise.

Rather than focusing on a minimal compromise or just continued disagreement, focus on synergy. Given the higher goal and the different ideas, how can they be brought together in the best way and create a better-than-incremental solution? In other words, go beyond just compromise and create a better opportunity for success together.

Make Compromise a Leadership Strength

No matter your organization, my guess is you are facing some key decisions to make. In most cases, each decision will carry risks, some pain of adjustment, and a new possibility. To get to a new, better way, you will need to compromise somehow. More importantly, you will need to collaborate and create better solution (synergy). Through it all, keep a positive intent. Many are depending it.

How do you lead through compromise? Join the conversation.


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