How do you lead between clarity and compromise?

Written by
Julia Middleton

08 Jul 2016

08 Jul 2016 • by Julia Middleton

Our working environments are changing. Many leaders now find themselves in situations where they know less than their highly specialised employees, where change comes quickly, and where collaboration and flexibility are essential for innovation.

On the one hand, when it comes to creating a clear vision, clarity is more important than ever; but on the other hand, true collaborative leaders need to be able to make compromises. So how do you know where to draw the line? When should you stick to a clear vision and when is it better to find a compromise? Leading between these poles can be a challenge and requires a new set of skills.

An apt example of this is the conductor who leads the orchestra. A conductor needs to convey the intention and message of a composed musical piece to a group of individually highly specialised musicians in order to create a harmonic result. A lack of clarity leads to confusion and a dissonant interpretation. At the same time, the conductor needs to give the musicians enough freedom to play independently so that the whole orchestra can convey feeling.

To solve the ‘conductor’s dilemma’ there are two things I think you need: for the leader to be transparent in his or her process and a high level of trust between all of the team members. Leaders who can work this way and build these teams are better able to oscillate between clarity and compromise. It means they can step back when necessary and allow for independence but still lead people to work for a common goal.

Working together

Last month 80 leaders from all over Germany met in Berlin to explore this topic of leading between clarity and compromise at our Common Purpose Masterclass. Working with a conductor as well as with senior leaders from the private, public and NGO sectors, they were inspired to develop many more ideas on clarity, compromise and leadership styles.

So what conclusions did they come to?

  • It does not feel like compromise when everyone involved comes to fully understand their common goal.
  • Leaders need patience to listen – there is never just one clear solution.
  • Clarity is just as important in non-verbal and emotional communication as it is in written and verbal communication
  • Courage is contagious. Leaders with courage will inspire it in those they lead. 

The most valuable experience for our participants however was the opportunity to exchange experiences, opinions, and ideas with people they would never otherwise meet. Their own perspectives were challenged and they discovered new personal standpoints and borders. I look forward to seeing how they will lead between clarity and compromise in the future!