How to survive when you have to make an unpopular decision
It happens to every credit union leader.
A situation comes up, and a decision has to be made. Half of your team wants to go one way; the other half wants to go another way. There are good arguments to be made for each side. The cases are presented, and then…
Everyone looks at you.
Because you alone are the leader.
I mean that quite literally. You — alone — are the leader. At the moment of decision, you are alone. There may be people around you, but the ball is in your hands. And, just like a basketball player on the free throw line, what happens next is entirely up to you, while everyone else watches.
And that’s the pressure of leadership.
It’s the pressure of having to make a decision, sometimes without knowing for sure whether it’s the right decision.
It’s the pressure of knowing that the results, good or bad, will have your fingerprints on them.
It’s the pressure of knowing that, no matter which decision you make, half of your team is going to disapprove. In some cases, vehemently disapprove.
Which is why credit union leadership is no place for wimps. Credit union leadership requires confidence, a thick skin, and boldness.
That said, we all (well, most of us) want to be liked. We want to be accepted. Most of us want to make people happy.
So what do you do when you know that, no matter what decision you make, half of your people are going to be unhappy? How do you survive that?
Two words: 1) Integrity. 2) Trust.
I numbered them for a reason. Because integrity comes first. Trust is a function of integrity. Not coincidentally, integrity and trust are the foundations of all great credit unions — including yours.
Integrity means that you have a strong set of moral values, that these values are in alignment with the values of the team and organization, and that you always strive to be true to those values. It means you try to serve the greater good before you serve yourself. (Ideally, of course, serving the greater good is serving yourself.)
When you build up a track record of acting with integrity, you earn trust. And when your team trusts you — when they know that you base your decisions on what you truly feel is in the best interest of the greater good — they can more easily accept a decision with which they may personally disagree.
Your team (and your members) will never trust you if they question your motives. If your decision is based on favoritism, personal gain, or desire for popularity, you lose. Maybe not in the moment, maybe not in the short term — but eventually, and indelibly.
Because, ultimately, leadership is less about what you do, and more about who you are.