“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” – Bill Crosby
The quote above by Bill Crosby could not be more accurate. I was very fortunate in my life to be given leadership experiences at a young age. These life changing experiences created many challenges and many rewards throughout my career in both the school system, municipal government and community organizations. My first experience was at the age of 21 coaching sports teams at both the middle and high school level. I loved sports and felt it would be a natural extension of my abilities to coach and mentor these student-athletes. What I did not realize is that the selection of who would make the team would cause certain parents and community members to become disgruntled. I had no clue a 7th grade girls basketball team would solicit such raw emotions. Due to this I fell into the trap of selecting some students that did not have necessarily the top of the line skill set as others simply to avoid the controversy that may come along from their parents. Years later, similar experiences happened when I become a middle and high school principal. I found myself sometimes worried more about pleasing staff and community members with my decisions than doing what would positively impact the mission and vision of the organizations I served. Every single time I did this and went against what my gut said was the right thing to do it had huge impacts on my standing as a leader and on the ability for the organizations to meet their goals.
As a leader, you have to realize it is not a popularity contest and at times your approval rating my be lower than that of your local congressional representative. Leadership is a contact sport and can be messy at times. As Bill Crosby, articulated above so eloquently trying to please everyone actually leads to failure. I will take it one step further and say it will lead to organizational stagnation and not meeting performance objectives. This whole concept of not pleasing others all the time was my biggest learning experiences I gained from roughly four years as being a high school principal. It took me to my last year to finally realize this. Anytime you supervise 160 employees there will be times that those you interact with have different agendas. To many times, I put trying to make everyone happy above what was the most efficient or effective way to serve. Even after holding numerous positions and being in leadership spots for over 16 years I still needed to work on that. My personal desire to have people like me as the leader and like their jobs and coming to work had a major influence on my decision-making. This was a huge mistake but one that if you are currently in can be easily corrected.
It is important to realize in leadership an individual will never please everyone. In fact, if you were trying to please every one there would be something wrong or you may get labeled as being to a weak leader by some in your organization. It is essential to maintain your primary goal or vision and that is to do what is in best interest of those you serve. In the case of a school principal, your direct customers will be the students. In an elected official capacity it would be of the residents that elected you.
When push comes to shove a leader..is one that leads others even when they may not like the action or decisions that are made. Leaders that are high performing realize this through maturity and time in the particular role or in my case when you have your entire world turned upside in a blink of the eye!