There has been much written about speaking truth to power, however, much of it has been relating to making a single bold statement or move. While there is a time and place for such pronouncements, far more often a more subtle, long-term approach increases the likelihood of embedding the change you seek. For the most impatient change-makers, this may feel like “pandering” or watering down what “really needs to happen.” Having tried it both ways, I have found the long game to be far more successful (even though I have rarely been accused of being patient). What exactly does “the long game” look like?
1. Clearly articulate, for yourself, what you are trying to accomplish. Is it being treated as an equal with a longer tenured but less “cutting edge” colleague? Is it persuading the organization to take a new approach, or try a new technology to improve performance? Is it trying to shift the focus from short-term gains to long-term impact? Resist the urge to respond solely to individual interactions (hard as it may be) and keep your focus on moving toward the long-term goal. Sometimes that means enduring seeming set-backs that position you for greater progress in the future.
2. What is the source of the “power player’s” resistance? What does he or she “lose” (at least in their mind) by embracing your ideas? Do they have legitimate concerns that you need to consider? Is there an unrecognized “gain” for the organization or the power player that you can point out? Not sure the answer to these questions? Ask. Change agents who are willing to be collaborative, to tease out and respond to legitimate sources of resistance, have the greatest chance of moving the dial toward long term change. Does this take longer. Yep. Lasting change is a long game.
3. You don’t have to start by playing every card. You may know that a more senior leader agrees with your position, and if pushed to would most likely back you up. However, if your goal is to move the whole organization forward, doing an end-run at the start of the effort is only going to build unnecessary pushback. Working to overcome resistance only strengthens your position, and allowing people to save face and/or to come to the inevitable outcome themselves does much more to build trust and a collective effort moving forward.
4. Level heads prevail. When people are pushed to change, emotions get involved. Frustration can spark, people can say harsh things, unfair or even untrue things. It is hard not to react. That is why it is good to remind yourself (in advance) that the level head “wins.” Make an impact based on the strength of your argument, not the emotional ferver of your response. At an empasse? It is perfectly acceptable to respond, “I am sorry you feel that way. I hope you are able to reconsider your position in the future,” and then walk away.
The road to lasting change often starts with one brave soul speaking truth to power. And if it’s that important, it is worth taking the time to be strategic in your approach. So make a plan, then step forward and speak up. We need change-makers like you.