Innovation

The choice -- To be right or be effective?

There are times as a manager when you have to choose between right and being effective. Are you ready to make this choice when the time comes?

I was in a staff meeting a couple of weeks ago when the answer given by one of our senior staff members to a question was "Well I have a choice, I can be right or I can be effective - I am choosing to be effective."

Those were the only words I wrote in my pad that day and I have been staring at them for a couple of weeks now. They bother me. Why? Because I want to be both right and effective and I don't like to even entertain the thought of having to choose. However, I know better than that. I left my rose-colored glasses somewhere with my Elton John LPs and I realize that we have to make this choice frequently.

Let's be clear about this choice as we begin to talk about it though. This choice is usually not about compromise, unless we are referring to the fact that we are compromising our principles in making it. This choice is about giving in or giving up in order to make something happen. Compromise usually involves both parties giving something up to reach agreement. Choosing between being right or being effective means you lose, they win on an issue with you banking on the idea that you are willing to lose the battle but hopefully win the war.

This can be a successful strategy, particularly better than winning the battle but losing the war, but it can also be a slippery slope and if taken too often can lead to problems. What kind of problems? Let me enumerate a few:

  • Choosing this path too often can lead others to believe that you are a pushover, thus they will no longer even try to compromise with you, and instead they will make demands and expect you to give in on your principles.
  • Choosing this path too often will eat at you as a manager - after all, you're giving in/up on something you believe to be right/true and if you do that too often what are you left with?
  • Your staff observes you and they mentally keep track of your winnings and losses, particularly if they share the belief/principle that you are giving up on and it causes them work that they find "distasteful." Do this enough and you will lose all credibility with your staff and they will consider you spineless.
  • Choosing this path and not frequently winning the war means that you are good at appeasing people but should make you wonder if you are truly managing anything?

So having said the above, when do you make this decision and how do you go about handling the repercussions?

First, this can often be a situational decision but it really requires forethought on your part and it should be a conscious decision, not a knee-jerk reaction. So try to avoid having to make this choice on the spot if you can avoid it.

In order to do that, you should first seek to make sure your position is clear and well understood. You can do this by simply saying "Please forgive me but I don't think I am making myself clear. If I may, let me restate my thinking on this." You always want to avoid making it seem as if they can't comprehend what you are saying (even if it is the case.)

After ensuring that your position is understood, determine if you are still encountering resistance or whether you have agreement. If you are butting up against resistance then you need to do some quick evaluation:

  • Who am I talking with?
  • What power do they have?
  • What are the possible repercussions of standing your ground?
  • Are you the final authority or representing someone who has the final authority?
  • What are the stakes involved? Are you being asked to give in on an important principle or something relatively minor?

Ideally, you will have thought all of this through before your encounter. However, there are times when it has to be done on the fly. In either case, if you're not the final authority you often can defer and say that you have a difference of opinion and need to take it back to a higher authority. This gives you more time to further evaluate the situation.

If that's not possible, your next goal is to reach compromise. Most people are willing to work with you if given the chance and being a creative compromiser is a valuable skill. Just look to Henry Clay as an example. In Mr. Clay, we have a historical figure whose whole reputation was built on bringing people together in compromise.

If you are unable to defer or compromise and have to make the choice of being right or effective, make sure you let the people know who are being impacted by your decision why you made it. You can stand by it, there is no sin in that - but making the decision and then letting those impacted speculate as to why you succumbed is worse than giving the actual facts - if you can. There will be those times when you cannot share that information, but I have found those to be less frequent than one would think.

In summary, having to choose between being right or being effective is a typical task for a leader at any level of an organization. In fact, you don't have to be in a managerial or supervisory position to be faced with this kind of decision. In all cases, it should make you uncomfortable that you have to do so, but with some skill and finesse you will find that more often than not you can turn the situation around or at minimum reach a compromise.

21 comments
arbind.gupta
arbind.gupta

We all know that we need to make the choice but this article helps in explaning how to make this choice and what are the pitfalls in choosing one or the other Arbind

jensgeyer
jensgeyer

Congratulations that you picked up that single sentence and asked what may be behind this often overlooked pearl of wisdom. Most people (especially in IT) wouldn't even give a damn about these words and forget it instantly. You are absolutely 100% on the right track, and I say this without any reservations. The only thing I'm a little afraid of is that a lot of readers will even "know better". And there we are again: They want to be right, and so they made their decision. Thanks again, JensG

infeeltrat
infeeltrat

And not right too often! When it becomes cultural, it's all too easy to get caught up in it. I've seen too many organizations where such a practice is taken to extreme and anyone chosing to be right is promptly plagued the pariah.

libskrap
libskrap

there are very few things where there is one right answer, which seems implied by the author. I wonder, was there not some "rightness" in the other choices? Was there not some "wrongness" in the author's preference? The context of the issue makes a tremendous difference in the rightness or wrongness of the choices. The speaker that preferred effective over right may have been meaning that he/she preferred another choice over the one that was the apparent choice, and was just putting a "spin" on the comment to try to sway people to his/her preference.

wrlang
wrlang

Some things are missing. Are you sure you're right in the entire situation? Often there is no clear right/wrong. Every action has a cost and benefit. If the cost outweighs the benefit, then the right thing to do may not really be the right thing to do if saving on costs now is paramount. Perhaps having extra costs afterward is better. Ask the resistor to explain their position. Simply making sure you are understood is half an effort. You need to understand and make public the reasoning of the resistor(s).

Notnerb
Notnerb

Effectiveness is about doing the right thing at the right time. Efficiency is about doing things the right way. Expedience is about doing something, anything, in order to move forward. There is no value in doing things the right way, if its not something you should be doing at all, or if it takes so long that it prevents you from doing what you need to do. To use a soccer analogy, sometimes you have to kick the ball backwards in order to reach the goal. It's inefficient and annoys the 'get the perfect shot' people, but it's certainly effective. So, learn to pick when to drive for perfection, and when to back off and accept an imperfect solution that might just take longer, but at least keeps you in the game.

A contractor
A contractor

In my world being right means things get done well the first time in manner that makes support and enhancements easier down the road. Being expedient means getting things done in a half-baked manner (dare I say unprofessional way) that means that things blow up, enhancements cause more than expected problems, and support is a nightmare. My boss always has taken the expedient way and is now paying the price.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

how does one remove effectiveness from rightness?

Ramon Padilla Jr.
Ramon Padilla Jr.

As distasteful as it can be, having to give in on principle in order to move an effort forward is often required of a manager. Like a bitter pill, you take it with the hopes that by doing so you will win out in the long run. How does having to do this make you feel? What are your strategies with dealing with the situation?

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