When to Hold Up, When to Fold Up, When to Walk Away, When to Run



In thinking about this month’s FountainBlue leadership blog, Kenny Roger’s song The Gambler with lyrics by Don Schlitz comes to mind. If you work with the premise that every hand can be a winner, it’s a matter of knowing when to hold firm to your ideals, when to fold to the pressures and insights of others, when to walk away from a relationship or deal, discussion or direction, and when to run away from someone and why. Here are some guidelines on when to choose which option:

When to Hold Up

Leadership is not always about making the most popular decision, being the most likeable guy/gal in the room. Sometimes it’s about making those tough choices, weighing a variety of factors, looking out for the best interest of the people and organization who have entrusted you with their future. If your decision is well researched, impartial, not-personal, and in the best interest of all, to the best of your knowledge, hold firm to your decision, communicate clearly your position, and lobby for support. This is especially true if:

  1. There are individuals or teams who are reacting emotionally to a decision, and taking things personally. If you’re sure that the decision is not personal, help he/her/them see this, and help them get the support to navigate the emotions around it. Change happens. It’s generally tough, but always inevitable. People vary in their abilities to adjust. A compassionate leader understands both why difficult things have to happen and how to support people in making things happen.
  2. There are times when individuals or teams are working at cross purposes, and it’s hard for both sides to see the value of a new direction if their goals are not aligned. Understanding the motivations of all sides and getting all sides to agree on a win-for-all solution will help leaders to hold firm to a decision, and enlisting 360 degrees of support.

When to Fold Up and Adopt the Perspectives of Others Nobody can be right *all* the time, and sometimes it’s worth adopting the perspectives and ideas of others on your team, particularly if:

  1. Others have more experience, knowledge, information or connections which give them a bigger, broader, different perspective.
  2. Others have a new, more efficient, more collaborative, more inclusive way of doing something, especially if it has proven successful in the past.
  3. Others have had more success in a particular area, and are sharing new perspectives you or your team may not necessarily understand, but may prove revolutionary if done well.
  4. Others might have a better long-term solution and understand that there are down-sides to the proposed short-term solution.

When to Walk Away Sometimes we have to agree to disagree, and we have to walk away from individuals or teams as we can’t agree a consensus or agreement. Hopefully, if we build on transparent communications and a relationship of respect, we can go separate ways with a relationship intact. Regardless of what happens when you agree to disagree, you should walk away if:

  1. There’s a philosophical difference about a technology or business trend or direction. It’s hard for any company to take both sides on a strategic direction for an organization. You could have tangent or tiger teams do explorations on an alternative technology track or business model, but the company must quickly coalesce on one direction, and all march and converge in that direction. People and teams who can’t get on board should walk away.
  2. Often times in tech companies, there’s a chasm between those-in-tech and those who are not. My advice is for business and tech professionals to agree-to-disagree when it comes to how something should be implemented, provided that the deliverable meets the needs of the customer. Getting into a head-to-head about technology implementation, process definition, general communications, etc may not be a good use of energy, and it may be better to decide to walk away from an unnecessary conflict.

When to Run As a leader, there will be times when the people you’re working with don’t share the values and culture and standards you stand for. These people might go through the motions and follow the plan, but they are definitely people who can’t get from-here-to-there, and the only option is to run from them.

  1. If the values of someone are in alignment with the organization, yet she/he has violated the trust of others, it is time to run. Trust is something hard-earned, and easily lost, and if that trust is lost, it is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to regain. Someone who violates others’ trust may succeed in different future circumstances, if the lessons are learned, but it’s too expensive to repair that trust in the same team and organization once it has been compromised, and would reflect badly on the leadership team if violated trust goes un-penalized.
  2. If your fundamental values are different than the people you are working with, it would be very difficult to find a middle ground. The values, culture and moral compass of an organization should be clearly communicated, and violators must be carved off, to preserve the integrity of the organization for those who remain. Lastly, there will never be a role for anyone in your organization who does not share your fundamental values – not that theirs are wrong, just different. So the only advice is to interview for common morals and values, and act quickly if it turns out someone is out of alignment with your values.

As a leader, you can’t expect everyone to always appreciate the tough decisions you make, so knowing when to hold-up and why, when to fold up and revisit your decision, when to walk away, agreeing to disagree, and when to run will make you more effective, more contemplative, and more likely to be right . . . at least *this* time.


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