When it comes to strategy, leadership, and life, you vote more often than you think you do.
Choices are everywhere. You make them from the moment you wake up in the morning to the moment you fall fast asleep at night.
This is an article about choices…Votes, if you will.
When it comes to your life as a professional, you vote all day every day. No, it’s true. You vote for lunch (you know…”What do you want for lunch?” “Salad.” Easy, right?). You vote for when the next meeting will happen. You may even be in a position to vote for what direction your company will go.
All of these are moments when you cast a vote.
But what about all the votes you make that you don’t even know about? The seemingly little votes that are actually huge? You may know them as votes for poor sales strategy or a bad leader or a toxic company culture, but whatever the case, you are likely making them because you are staying put and shutting up.
One of the aspects I absolutely loved about the large professional services firm that I spent a good portion of my career within was a concept called the obligation to dissent.
The obligation to dissent was the notion that all people, whether the least tenured or the most, had the obligation to put their dissenting point of view on the table during any interaction.
Disagree with the path a strategy is taking? Put a competing point of view out there. Think someone isn’t living up to the values espoused by the firm? Say so. You had an obligation. Voting “present” was not expected of you.
So how does this apply to you, today, as a professional?
I’ll give you one hint, and I ask that you act on it—here it is: Ask a question.
Yep, that’s all.
Ask a question.
You see a strategy that is poorly structured or conceived? Ask “What about this better structured alternative?”
You see a leader who is behaving in a way that does not reflect the values of the company? Ask “is this how you expect me to act with my people?”
You see people complaining about the status quo? Ask “so what are we going to do about it?”
You might be listened to, and you might just retain a little bit of your own self respect. In fact, the way people around you react to your placing a thoughtful, constructive question on the table will tell you plenty about where you stand. Try it out.
Legendary rock band Rush has a classic track out there called Freewill, and it contains this doozy of a lyric:
“If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”
So, yes, you bear the blame for choices (or “votes”) you didn’t make. You work for an unethical leader? Well, you voted for him, so stop complaining. You are executing a strategy that might be termed “crappy?” Well, you voted for it. You live within a corporate culture that is toxic? You got it: All on you, my friend.
Some might say I’m blaming the victim here. They will say that I’m ignoring the personal situations of people who stay with bad leaders, companies, spouses, what have you. To them I’ll say this: You have a choice to be constructive or destructive. Endorsing a bad leader, environment, family situation, or whatever is destructive to you and to the people who are the victims of your tacit consent.
The sincerest form of constructive behavior, whether it be in forming global corporate strategies or simply deciding how to live your life, is to name the issues and work on them diligently. If you are one who is content to run out the clock on your career by passively voting for a world you wouldn’t intentionally subject others to, just remember…
You have voted.