In a leadership role, you’ll be faced with difficult situations. They might involve politics, discrimination or difficult conversations. You’ll ask yourself “Is it worth it?”
Sometimes, you’ll find yourself at the edge of a cliff, wondering whether to jump and commit to taking action, or to back down. You might be wondering whether to quit your job, to have a hard conversation with your boss or to call out bad behaviour.
We all like to believe that we would always make the tough calls. That we would stand up for what we believe in, fight the battles and be the “strong leader”.
The Reality of Making the Hard Calls
Unfortunately, the reality is that there is often a cost to being a righteous warrior, standing up for the weak, fighting for a just cause.
Instead, leaders may find themselves torn about what action to take.
Should I stand up to the powerful boss who is doing the wrong thing?
Is it worth confronting the difficult colleague who is making life difficult for others?
Should I stay and keep fighting for change, or throw in the towel and go somewhere else where I’m more likely to be appreciated?
Is it worth speaking an uncomfortable truth to somebody who doesn’t want to hear it?
Everyone is working within constraints. We have families to support, bills to pay, reputations and careers to protect and preserve.
So the question remains. Is it worth it?
Learn More: Making Difficult Decisions: Essential Steps for Leaders.
Quitters Never Win… Or Do They?
I grew up hearing that “Quitters never win” and that often made me feel bad about quitting things.
Of course it’s true that if you want to be good at something, you won’t get there if you don’t persist. The trick is knowing what you want to be good at.
In Seth Godin’s book “The Dip”, the central concept is that quitting is not necessarily a bad option. You just need to be able to decide whether quitting or sticking is the right way to go.
In the book, Seth talks about building businesses. You often don’t see results straight away. Years can go into building a business with minimal results, before it finally takes off.
So the question is, are you just in “the dip” before you experience great success? Or are you in a hole that you likely won’t get out of, where quitting is the best option?
The point is, quitting is not always a bad thing.
Sticking with something that leads to a dead end could be much worse.
Questions to Help You Decide “Is it Worth It?”
I work with leaders who often face agonising decisions, where they need to decide what action to take, or whether to take action at all.
It’s a good idea to be able to pick your battles, instead of trying to fight all of them.
Here are some questions to use, to try to decide “Is it worth it?” in your situation.
1. Will Taking Action Help You Maintain or Build Your Integrity?
It’s important for leaders to be able to live and work according to their values. Our values are what guide us, and help us decide what is right and wrong.
For example, if you value fairness, then you’ll feel very uncomfortable when you observe bias or unfairness in your life.
Whatever you’re deciding to do, which direction will help you maintain your integrity?
If you choose not to take that action, you could instead find there is an “integrity gap”. That is, a feeling of discomfort, where you know you should do something, but you haven’t.
Living with an integrity gap is not easy. You can squash it, push it down and try to bury it, but deep down, you’ll know something is wrong.
Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #53: Why Trusting Your People Is Your Best Strategy.
2. Do You See the Realistic Possibility of Change?
If you take action, do you feel as if there is a realistic chance that you’ll be able to make real progress?
To help you answer this one, consider whether:
- There is a precedent – someone has done something like this before in your situation.
- You have support – people who are on the same wavelength with your beliefs and intentions; or
- You’re able to influence – do you have the ability to influence change? Access to the right people or resources? Are people open to your ideas?
I once worked for a manager who was “old school”. He’d been in the company for 30 years, from his first year in the workforce.
We kept doing things the way we always had. People paid lip-service to innovation and new ways of working, but they never really gained traction.
The culture of the department became one where people stayed for a long time, became comfortable and didn’t bother changing or growing.
I challenged this boss quite a few times, to no avail. If I’d considered the points above, I would have had a moment of realisation much sooner that my efforts were unlikely to bear fruit.
Learn More: Team Improvement: 5 Reasons Smart Leaders Love It.
3. Are You Set Up For Success?
When you’re trying to answer the question “Is it worth it?”, it’s good to make sure you’re set up for success.
Tough actions involve consequences, so it’s worth considering these.
Do you have a backup plan in place, if things go wrong?
Do you have a strong personal or professional network that can help you if the worst happens?
What about supporters, who will rally behind you and keep you motivated and upbeat?
Without some of these ingredients, you might be in for a tough time. It may be prudent to be prepared before going into battle.
4. Are You Strongly Motivated by the Outcome You Are Seeking?
This is a key question.
What actually motivates you about this situation? Is it the possibility of making meaningful change, addressing an imbalance or standing up for somebody who needs it?
Or is it just about winning the battle? Being correct and showing others that you had the right idea all along?
If you’re more motivated by the fight than the outcome, it could be that is isn’t worth the trouble.
And if you’re not strongly motivated by the outcome, you may find yourself losing enthusiasm. Making significant change takes time, effort and persistence.
Learn More: Motivation at Work: Moving Your People Along the Motivation Spectrum.
5. Would You Be Proud of What You Did, If You Looked Back In a Year?
Sometimes the problems we think are huge now will seem inconsequential later.
If we look back in a year, we might feel like the challenge was nothing more than a speed bump, rather than a massive boulder.
On the other hand, this decision you’re facing might actually be significant in your career, your life and in how you feel about yourself.
If that’s the case, then you would look back and be proud of the action you took.
So perhaps the real question is “How important is this to you?”
6. Are You Focused On Your Own Needs, or Just the Needs of Others?
Many thoughtful leaders have a tendency to put their own needs on the back burner.
As one of my coaching clients said to me, “I have a tendency to put myself at the bottom of the pile”.
It’s important to focus on your own needs, in addition to the needs of others. You need to be able to balance the two, so that you can keep showing up for your people without burning out or fading away.
It could be that it’s worth fighting, if you want to maintain your own wellbeing or integrity.
Or, you may decide that fighting the battle will come at a great personal cost, which may damage your confidence, sap your energy, and compromise your ability to lead effectively in the future.
Whatever the case, it’s important to factor this question into the equation.
Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #144: Is It Time to Start Putting Yourself First?
So, Is It Worth It?
Well, is it?
Obviously, I can’t give you the answer.
And unfortunately, there is no magical equation that we can plug numbers into either.
However, hopefully these questions help you to think deeper about the issue you’re facing.
Then, you can decide if it’s worth it.
Once you have your answer, you can commit with confidence.
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