Bold Leaders and Stretchy Necks

In an organization that I worked in many years ago, I recall once taking an unpopular and controversial stand on a particular issue about which I felt very passionate.

My director at that time asked me if this was “the hill that I wanted to die on?” He did this while discreetly suggesting that I was perilously close to ending my career in this organization if I continued chasing this issue.

I did persist, and eventually found myself outside the circle of power.

To this day, I am not certain that my persistence made a big difference within the organization; however, I am confident that I made a bold (and correct) decision. I believe this even if my own interests were not well served in doing so.


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As I approach the point in my life that a colleague kindly refers to as “professional maturity,” I find that I possess greater clarity on the traits that I respect in a leader.  I admire leaders that make change happen by having the personal conviction and courage that I would associate with bold leadership.  I believe that the effectual leader is the one that is able to make the tough decision while willingly accepting some degree of personal risk, and do it all for the advancement of a cause greater than themselves.

There is no moral precept that does not have something inconvenient about it. ~Denis Diderot

Leadership involves sacrifice.
In an age of political self-serving and calculated risk-taking, I find it both inspiring and hopeful to see a leader stick their neck out for the benefit of others. This is the price of true transformational change.  Iconic leaders like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Nelson Mandela each took a bold and passionate stand for a cause that was known to be unpopular;  and each knew that they would pay a steep price (hatred, suffering, and humiliation) for their actions.  You probably have heard what they did to Jesus for taking a resolute and unpopular stand.

The true measure of ethical leadership lies in leaders doing the right thing, especially when it is unpopular and inconvenient. These decisions define not only who we are as leaders, but who we become as human beings.

As a leader, describe the last decision that you made that you knew to be the right thing that involved personal sacrifice. How did you come to that decision? How did it make you feel for doing it? Are you better off, or not? I would love to hear your story!

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Paul Short is an independent OD and Change Professional.
He can be reached at

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One response to “Bold Leaders and Stretchy Necks

  1. Thanks for the reminder that taking on a leadership role needs to be a courageous act because true leaders act in ways that don’t always lead to easy answers – but to the right answers.

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