In today's ego-driven society, I feel odd writing an article about standing up for what you believe. We've all run across the person who is standing his or her ground - ground that is built on arrogance and ego. We've all shuddered when someone "laid down the law" on something that he or she didn't truly understand.
Despite this, most of us have also seen times when we ourselves should have stood our ground in order to avoid messy situations that drained our energy and made us question whether or not we were in the right place.
Before going into the details of what standing your ground is and why it's important, I should stop and talk about ethics. Simply put: if you don't live by your ethics, you'll suffer the consequences. All of us feel like we're generally good people. We usually believe that we are the best person we can be. When you allow your ethics to be violated for any reason, you set up an inner conflict within yourself, which will eventually cause some kind of problem. If you're asked to violate your ethics - don't. It's not going to be worth it.
On the other hand, you must consider how much of your beliefs you impose on those around you. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you may not believe that it's right to eat meat. One could even say that it was against your basic ethics. In this case, it is your right to decline eating meat. However, you inflict your beliefs on those around you when you don't allow them to eat meat in your presence. Consider that as a part of your ethics. What you ask others to do or not do may be more about inflicting your value system on them, as opposed to personally living by your ethics.
The Messes that We Get Ourselves Into
The worst messes that I've ever got myself into were ones that I knew were going to be messes before I started. Through my fourteen or so years of consulting practice, I've managed to get myself into more than a few bad situations.
One of the earliest ones was when I was doing a substantial amount of work with a law firm. They desperately needed to replace computers to improve the processing speeds in order to support new Windows based programs. However, money was tight for the firm and they asked if there was any way to upgrade the computers they already had. After several negotiations and discussions, I relented and started the upgrade process.
Never had I created such a mess. The machines themselves were non-standard and some didn't take to the upgraded components at all. Others worked, but so slowly that no one wanted to use them - and honestly, I don't blame them. I ended up writing down a substantial amount on that account and caused more than a little trouble between the named partners of the organization.
The unfortunate thing is that I'm a slow learner when it comes to standing my ground. I routinely cut things out of project budgets which my better judgment - and my gut - told me not to cut. Nearly every time I did, I was treated to another dose of the same lesson. After a few dozen times, I realized that you must bend as far as you can, but no further. Once you reach your limit, you should stop before you create a set of problems that you'll spend months digging yourself out of.
One of the corollaries to standing your ground is that no good deed goes unpunished. Sometimes standing your ground is standing up to yourself. I've been involved with dozens of projects where the client is getting the letter of what they contracted for, and yet there's that one last "little" thing that would help them be more satisfied with the solution. I generally trip over myself trying to take care of that one last thing. The end result often has disastrous consequences.
Often that one little thing, which gets done in a hurry, is the only thing about the project that the customer remembers. They won't remember months of struggle and pain to solve their core business needs; they remember that one day the Excel macro that you created to help them better use the solution didn't work. They are frustrated by the limitations and focus all of their energy on what a shoddy job was done in putting the "little" thing together, instead of the marvelous solution that runs behind the scenes.
Even today I struggle with not giving away things that will help clients, even though I know they need it and they can't pay for it. I have to stand up to myself and prevent myself from trying to help them solve problems that they've not paid me to solve.
The Courage to Walk Away
One of the hardest things to do in business today is to walk away from business that you know is wrong. There's a natural misconception that any work is good work. In the frequent retooling environment of a consulting company, we're often asked to retool our skills to meet a client need. Most of these requests make sense. We can adapt something we already know. These requests give us a new perspective on the same problem. However, there are those opportunities that require a completely different skill set than those that you currently have. Those opportunities can zap the energy you have and consume far more mental and learning resources than they're worth.
When times are lean and you have people who have some excess capacity, it's really hard to say that you want or need to pass up an opportunity because it doesn't fit. I've had many discussions with business leaders over the years who are incapable of saying no to business that they know in their gut is wrong for their organization. Their need to protect or grow their business overwhelms their good sense and causes them to take on a project that they shouldn't.
From the perspective of someone who has to deliver on these projects that are not aligned with the core skills and objectives of the organization, your objective is to articulate the concern that the project isn't right, to show the possible consequences, and advise against taking on the project. If you stand your ground firmly, but fairly, communicating your concerns, and that still doesn't work, you'll have to make the best of the project; however, you should never go beyond a reasonable effort to try to make it work.
The Wrong End of the Spectrum - Arrogance
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, we've all been exposed to arrogance and egos, which prevent rational discussion. We realize that arrogance can be equally as destructive as not standing your ground. However, as a business acquaintance said to me a long time ago, "the line between confidence and arrogance is razor thin." He was cautioning me that my self-confidence, the same confidence that allowed me to stand my ground (sometimes), was the thing that some people viewed as arrogance. Those few words a long time ago have made me focus on standing my ground by communicating the facts that I know and the concerns and perceptions that I have.
While there are still those who believe me to be arrogant, there are an equal number who believe that I'm soft-spoken and humble. You can't win them all.
Learning to stand your ground, to trust your instincts, and to respectfully disagree with others is a difficult thing. Complicating the need to stand your ground is the potential of being considered arrogant; however, learning how to stand your ground will keep you out of a lot of trouble in the long run.
About the Author
Robert Bogue, MCSE (NT4/W2K), MCSA, A+, Network+, Server+, I-Net+, IT Project+, E-Biz+, CDIA+ has contributed to more than 100 book projects and numerous other publishing projects. He writes on topics from networking and certification to Microsoft applications and business needs. Robert is a strategic consultant for Crowe Chizek in Indianapolis. Some of Robert's more recent books are Mobilize Yourself!: The Microsoft Guide to Mobile Technology, Server+ Training Kit, and MCSA Training Guide (70-218): Managing a Windows 2000 Network. You can reach Robert at Robert.Bogue@CroweChizek.com.