The Sacrifices of a Principled Leader: What do when your principles interfere with business


As a teenager, I learned the art of being a “people pleaser”. One had to if they wanted to survive the chaos and awkwardness of high school. Forever the diplomat and even nicknamed “the politician” by some, I thought that the key to success and good life strategies was to pacify and not rock the boat too much. But as I began to mature in my adult years and gain a greater sense of who I am as a woman, I’ve realized that saying what everyone wants to hear doesn’t yield the kind of results that necessitates substantial change.

In fact, it is far more important to me to walk in my truth then to try to box myself into someone else’s. What brought me to this revelation, and prompted me to write this post is the fact that I’m being asked more and more to speak to young people. I also recently completed a radio interview with Connie Grier and Bold Radio where I spent 60 minutes discussing my views on education and preparing our young people for the real world. A big part of that was about teaching our young people to think critically, encouraging them to challenge the status quo, and engage with the issues in their communities, even when it’s unpopular. I can’t very well preach that, but then take weak stances on issues that I know that I feel passionate about, downplay my support of or opposition to certain issues, or partner with people/organizations that support the exact opposite of what my organization is trying to promote, just for the sake of getting business. There are just some principles that I have to stand firm on if I want to be taken seriously in my field. So for me, as a developing thought leader in issues of education access, it’s important that I remain committed to advancing equal opportunities for education for all groups of people in this country. And I can’t just lend my support through lip service. I have to demonstrate this by walking the talk and engaging myself in projects that promote my beliefs.

As leaders, regardless of what industry you are in, you also have a responsibility to find a solid platform to stand on and shape your business practices around. Why? Simply put, because a principled leader is a consistent leader; and a consistent leader is a respected leader.

So my advice to my fellow movers and shakers is that when determining your next projects and collaborations, consider the following:

Consider the vision that you have for your business.

Hopefully, when you made the decision to embark upon the journey of starting your own business or organization, you considered what you wanted your mission and vision to be. When you have a solid vision, it becomes easier to chart the direction that your business will go in. You’ll have that measuring stick to size up the value of opportunities that come your way and will more readily be able to determine what falls within the scope of what purpose your business is trying to serve and what doesn’t.

Vet projects and offers for partnership carefully.

This means that at times, you may have to decline invitations to work on certain projects if you are seeing some issues with the direction that your potential partner wants to move in. You should always keep in mind how a partnership will potentially impact your brand (your reputation) and your mission. One of the things I do when I identify individuals I want to work with, or am approached by people who want to work with me, is sit down and have a good old fashioned conversation with them. We talk about our goals for our organizations/businesses and hash out the goals for the proposed partnership. Never commit to anything up front. Make sure that you do your research and follow due diligence in checking out the reputations of those involved in the partnership.

Re-assess your mission.

When we start out shaping our organizations, we do it from a lens of where we are at mentally and spiritually at that point in time. But obviously, as people, we evolve. We have more life experiences and we change; we grow. So sometimes, the mission that we felt so passionately about when we first started out, may not be the focal point of our work later on in life. Or maybe after some time, we realized that the vision we saw in the beginning, has actually been realized. Now you’re ready to move on to other things. If you’re finding that you’re drawn to a lot of projects and partnerships that are going in a different direction from your original mission, maybe now is the time to re-evaluate the direction you want to continue to go in.

One of my absolute favorite quotes is “If you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything.” Truer words were never spoken. In life we all need a compass to help us find our way with so much going on around us. I hope this post inspires you today to think long and hard about your choices. You have important work to do. Do it with dignity and do it with principles.

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