Leadership is not a popularity contest. The mark of good leader is how they lead against the odds or even against popular convention.
As much as we admire leaders for exerting leadership against the odds, there are times when a leader who goes against the grain may face disappointment. To avoid it, ask three key critical questions that will assert your right to lead.
What am I doing? Leaders need to support the mission of the organization, so their strategic direction needs to support what the organization is in business to do. If it does not, the alternative is to change the mission. Lou Gerstner did that as CEO of IBM when he shifted the company’s focus from selling hardware and software to providing integrated IT solutions and services.
Why am I doing it? Yes, put the organization first! Leaders have personal agendas, but those agendas need to support the aims of the organization. If they do not, a leader may get too far out ahead or be seen as a lone wolf. More specifically, people are not eager to support someone who they perceive is working only for herself. That makes the process of getting rid of the lone wolf all the more pleasurable.
Is it worth it? This question can be tough to answer. Sometimes it may be wise to maintain the status quo. Other times the organization needs to be pushed (sometimes kicking and screaming) into a new era. When Alan Mulally became CEO of Ford, he and his team developed a global strategy called One Ford that optimized resources to improve vehicles and deliver stronger returns.
These questions demand more than cookie-cutter responses; they challenge the leader to examine what the organization needs and what his or her motives are for pushing for change.