Leaders have the ability to do many things: Hire, fire; prioritize, minimize; invest, divest. These abilities are the first ones that usually come to mind; however, they pale in comparison to the most powerful ability leaders have, which is—the ability to convene. I know some of you are thinking “Huh?” Yes, the ability to call and people come is something only leaders possess. Great leaders know whento call, whoto call, and whatto do once people get there.
When: Leaders convene in times of change, controversy and conflict. They do because people need to be brought together to build bridges from the present to the future, from pain to progress, and from disharmony to unity. If leaders wait too late to call people together, division sets in as hard as concrete. Robert Woodruff, the late CEO of Coca-Cola, is legendary for calling leaders together whenever the company and Atlanta as a city were facing a major dilemma.
Who: Good leaders bring representatives of the different parties to the table at the same time so that she can see, hear and feel where everyone is coming from. I learned the importance of using this approach from Bill Bares, former CEO of Lubrizol. It is important because there will be times in which good, well-intentioned people will have different views on what needs to be done; for example, resource allocation is a dilemma in corporate, government and non-profit. The same is true with policy, decision rights, and human rights. Leaders have to listen not only just the words that are said and how they are said but also to the spirit driving them.
What: Great leaders know that, since the situation is a dilemma, not everyone is going to be happy with whatever decision is made. Reason being, there will always be people I call zealots who see the situation as a problem instead of a dilemma. In that, their answer is the only answer. In addition, they some personally and politically benefit from the division, so they want it to continue and not be resolved. For these reasons, great leaders know that whatever decision they make they are going to be criticized for it. They don’t mind because they were mindful in making the decision. They were because they carefully and intently listened to all of the different perspectives. People, other than the zealots, recognize and respect the mindfulness even though the decision the leader made was different from what they were advocating.
In closing, there isn’t a company or community that is not facing some type of disruption that is causing division. Leaders need to exercise the greatest power they have—the power to convene at the right time, with the right people, and move forward the right way.