Here’s why the best leaders pick and choose their battles wisely…

One of the biggest struggles I faced when returning home from the military was adjusting to the insignificance of being late in the civilian world.  People casually walk into meetings 10 minutes late, scrolling through Facebook with no sense of urgency whatsoever.  Whereas, on the contrary, in the military you’re generally early to being early and you get your head ripped off if you even think about being late…

However, despite the fact that my hatred for being late will never go away, I have grown to accept that most of my peers and especially those I lead, will likely never share that mindset.  I’ve tried fighting to instill that strong sense of timeliness with people and some listen!  But most don’t…

Why?  Because not everyone thinks the way I do.  Most people don’t share the same experiences that led me to appreciate the value of being on time.  Simply put, this forced me to make an important decision in my leadership approach…

Do I continue to fight people over being two minutes late to a meeting

or

Do I focus that energy on more important matters?

As challenging as it has been, I have chosen option #2 for most situations.  Despite my belief that being on time and team discipline is critically important, I also believe that leaders must pick and choose their battles if they truly want to connect with those they lead.  It’s not about letting undisciplined behavior off the hook, but it’s a conscious choice to when and where that behavior is to be addressed.

As important as discipline is in my leadership approach, it is more important to me to build relationships with those I lead.  Sure, there is a time and place for enforcing simple rules and expectations but I must ask myself, “Is this is most important matter my team faces right now?”

As difficult as it may be to watch someone be late to a meeting, it’s more difficult to watch the morale of teams I lead be depleted.  Some of you reading this will disagree, but I have come to appreciate that losing some battles will help me win the war.  In other words, I understand that some less important issues must be sacrificed in the short term to focus on more important priorities that will lead to long-term success for my team.

Sure, there are ways to “incentivize” people to be on time or conform to your way of leadership but that only get’s you so far.  Do I really want everyone to show up on time if that means the morale of the team suffers?  Do I really want to force people to do things my way if that means they will slowly despise me as a leader?

Here’s the part that most “leaders” don’t want to hear…

If your followers despise you, you’re likely ineffective in your role as a leader.  To be clear, I am not suggesting you need to be best friends with everyone you lead – because you don’t – but you do need to build relationships with those people if you want them to perform.  That’s the simple truth.  Compliance DOES NOT equal performance.

So what am I suggesting?  Pick and choose your battles wisely.  Somethings are worth the fight and others aren’t.  Some people need more slack than others.  Discipline and consequences definitely have their place in effective leadership discipline works best when used sparingly.

Trying to build to much conformity and rigidity into your leadership framework will deter followers from wanting to be part of your teams future.

Try focusing on building relationships first, especially early into your transition into a leadership role with new teams.  Once those relationships are built. people will be more likely to meet your expectations and adhere to your basic guidelines – but trust must be built first.

As complex as leadership already is, we can make life easier by focusing our valuable time and energy on what matters most – moving forward and long-term success.

By: Timothy A. Natale

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