As business leaders we routinely find ourselves in the middle of arguments. At least we hope so. Because the more passion we generate about our company and its mission, the more our people will engage in arguments about strategy, structure, budgets, and action plans.
Peak performance leaders know arguments and debates are inevitable. They also know how to best resolve the arguments and get the team aligned and moving forward together. This skill is an essential part of leading anything.
So how do they get past the roadblocks in a way that everyone remains committed?
Right versus right dilemmas -- the hard choice.
Peak performance leaders recognize the hardest decisions are not a matter of one choice being right and the others wrong. They know the arguments that stymie groups happen when "rights" collide to create an ethical dilemma.
As an example, think about a company after an acquisition. It needs to merge two back office operations, but the managers of each back office are at odds - which one gets to absorb the other? Each manager is "right" to argue for the good of their department.
This is an ethical dilemma called "good for the unit versus good for the whole." Dr. Rushworth Kidder, author and founder of the Institute for Global Ethics, wrote about these dilemmas in his books Moral Courage and How Good People Make Tough Choices.
Ethical dilemmas are defined by Kidder as "right versus right" and "at the heart of our toughest choices." It's "right" to protect your employees as a department head, and "right," on the other hand, to protect the interest of the company. According to Kidder, there are four dilemmas:
- Good for the unit versus good for the whole.
- Good for the short term versus good for the long term.
- Truth versus loyalty.
- Justice versus mercy.
These dilemmas have been part of the human experience since the dawn of creation. They are prevalent today and guaranteed to drive people crazy in the future. As business leaders we're sure to face them, so what can we do?
1. Solve ethical dilemmas by adopting "and."
Peak performers recognize collisions of "rights" and move the group away from making each other wrong and towards resolving the dilemma. To do this, invite the group to design a solution that embodies the magic of "and." The narrative then becomes:
- Good for the unit AND good for the whole.
- Good for the long term AND good for the short term.
- Truth AND loyalty.
- Justice AND mercy.
When leaders can get the group to use this powerful orientation, they will most likely resolve the dilemma.
2. Think about outcomes.
If you find yourself in a situation when this approach doesn't work, you can resolve a right versus right dilemma by finding the highest "right." Kidder wrote that there are three ways to make the best choice when faced with these types of dilemmas:
- Ends-based: Select the option that generates the most good for the most people.
- Rule-based: Choose as if you're creating a universal standard. Follow the standard that you want others to follow.
- Care-based: Choose as if you were the one most affected by your decision.
Once you've identified an ethical right versus right dilemma, lay out your options according to these three principles. One approach will immediately present itself as the "most right."
3. Keep the group committed to the decision.
No matter what decision-making approach makes the most sense for a given situation, it's important to keep the group committed to the decision. To do this, adopt a working definition of consensus as the group tries to resolve these dilemmas. Instead of using the traditional definition of consensus where everybody is expected to agree with everything, switch it up to use the following definition:
- Was the process to make the decision deemed rational and fair to all involved?
- Was each person involved in the discussion treated well and listened to?
- Assuming the group is satisfied with No. 1 and No. 2, can they live with and commit to the outcome? (Notice it does not say agree with the outcome.)
Listen carefully when people unknowingly argue about right versus right. Often it's not apparent to the people involved. Point it out and they will begin to think about these situations differently. And make sure they are using the working definition of consensus when forging their agreements.
Using these skills, you will become intensely important to the vitality of the company -- you keep the group moving forward in spite of their inevitable encounter with ethical dilemmas.