The View from This Side of the Table: The Leader and the Led

Differences of opinion are nothing new.  Differences of points of view between a leader and someone they lead is also nothing new.  The question is…how does a leader most efficiently approach an issue that stands between her and the one that she’s attempting to lead?


For the sake of this discussion, I’m going to assume the leader is a person of goodwill and wants to find a resolution to whatever issue, disagreement, etc., in the most efficient and constructive way possible.

And, by the way, what I’m going to say applies in EVERY relationship, personal or business, marriage, school or corporation.

Let’s first explore the difficulty, then we’ll outline the solution.  I know that all this will seem rather simplistic…after all, there’s only so many words I can offer here.  But don’t let the simplicity cause you to dismiss this as invalid.  I guarantee this will improve every effort you make at resolving any difference in any relationship.

WOW!  And just to show you how serious I am about how much I believe in this, I’m offering…today only…a money-back guarantee.  If fact, if you follow the instructions (suggestions actually) and you do not experience relief of your symptoms, simply return the blog and I will refund you TRIPLE what you paid…including the postage.

Seriously…here’s the difficulty that always presents itself.  A difference of opinion always has a tendency to create a barrier between the parties, even though there is always, I think, a way of avoiding it.

A barrier, by definition, always stands between.  Always creates something of an impasse.  To overcome an impasse always requires at best a compromise and at worst a capitulation.  A compromise means that both parties will not achieve what they want.  A capitulation means someone wins and someone loses…power has been recognized and exercised.

Someone might suggest there should be a way for everyone to win.  You know: “win-win.”  I contend that, again by definition, that doesn’t happen.  But what if both parties…husband and wife…manager and employee…CEO and Division Head…HR Director and employee in trouble…were both able, not necessarily to win, but to succeed.

Success takes the focus off my self-described ideal outcome and puts the focus on a resolution that is mutually beneficial…in which both parties succeed.

So, how does that happen?  If we use the picture of two people at a restaurant table, it’s very hard to see and talk to the other party if there’s a huge centerpiece sitting on the table between them.  The centerpiece is bulky, obtrusive and unwanted, it looks different to each individual, but neither has the ability to move it without the other person’s permission.

But imagine the difference in perspective if both people were sitting on the same side of the table.  There might still be some differences of opinion on how pretty or ugly it was or whether it was appropriate or not, but both people would be looking at it from the same place and would be talking to each other instead of across or through something.

Now the two people, perhaps at odds with each other, have a mutual issue which they are working on together!  It provides for at least the possibility of a shared goal…a shared hope…a shared outcome…a shared success.

So what is a leader to do…to walk down this path of mutual success instead of wielded power?  I suggest the following 3 not-so-simple steps.

  1. Do whatever is necessary to assure the partner in the process, usually the one being led, really believes that you, the leader, wants them to succeed.

This cannot be done on the spur of the moment when a problem presents itself simply by verbalizing a simple “I’m on your side”.  Unless you have lived out your relationship with that person in a way that demonstrates your true interest in them, you will be, like my grandpappy used to say, “spittin’ in the wind,” and you’ll find yourself resorting to the exercise of power.

So start now to live out that relationship with all those for whom and with whom you have or share responsibility.

  1. Mentally, place the issue at hand on the other side of the table from the two of you. Respond to the problem as a mutual one that you are committed to working on together. Brainstorm as peers (even if you’re superior in a hierarchical sense) about this “thing” you’re looking at together.
  2. Don’t stop until (1) you arrive at a solution or (2) one of the parties is no longer willing to participate (don’t let that be you). In my experience, there is always a way to resolve an issue so that both people succeed. That’s not to say I have not been party to these conversations that don’t work out…I have. But as I look back, I think it’s been because I moved back to the other side of the table.

Now, some will argue this is fanciful and unrealistic.  Maybe so…but my guarantee still stands.