We have been taught to never surrender
And there are places where that makes sense.
But relationships you desire to engender
Require you to calculate the expense.
For to grasp two sides is a decision
One bravely intentionally makes.
The easy path is senseless collision
That at best leads to futile stalemates.
Surrendering steps must be inspected
And the forum carefully designed.
To yield means all sides are by choice respected
With pledges for sincere dialogue enshrined.
To surrender is a strength smeared as weakness;
The insult for efforts to go below the surface.
Yet to trade peacemaking clarity for obliqueness,
Leaders must calibrate a new compass.
The loose verse is intended to encapsulate a proposition. Please allow me to expand for I know of few messages more important than this one.
Already you may have your teeth clinched if you are thinking of military battle training or even the high school coach still screaming in your head. You see, that is part of the problem I’m addressing. It is instilled in us to never surrender. Otherwise, how would we ever get out of college much less win a football game? My blue-collar family background taught me that I will make it in life for a couple of reasons. I will do whatever it takes to provide for my family (yep, I’ve cleaned restrooms in my past), and I will also outwork 95 out of 100 people.
The Personal Level
That no-surrender mindset may work just fine until it affects critical relationships. The divorce rate in our communities speaks for itself, and we all know it mostly boils down to communication issues. Yes, the specific topics are God, money, intimacy, children and even in-laws. But it is the lack of communication that is the central issue. And if we go a level below that barrier we will usually find that the very core issue is the inability to surrender.
And so how is this battle of the wills created and sustained? I am guessing that it is mostly passed down from the parents to the child, and most of us are both. We have an acquaintance with two teenage sons. In the last eight years there has been a constant battle with nobody willing to give in. Grades are not worth much if you sacrifice a relationship. The result is that the oldest son joined the Army as soon as he got out of high school.
Sadly, the exact same thing is happening between the parents and the youngest son. If ever there was a roadmap for relationship disasters, this is it. And the replication confirms that the parents have no concept of the key aspect of relationships, and that is knowing how to balance being firm with an effort to enjoy the merits of finding a middle ground.
I have always found it interesting that many times the higher up you look in an organization, the more personable and relaxed the interaction might be with the person at or near the top. Why is that? Could it be the more senior executive has learned about relationships? At a junior level, there are often egos and the competitive pressures to excel. Again, balance comes into play here. But climbing the ladder to reach a lofty position doesn’t mean you can keep it. Woe to the wicked, Sancho, if you cross a junior executive a little too anxious to conquer the world with no regard to relationships. And, equally, how interesting when there is a failure by that same junior due to immaturity, haste, plus the encounter with peers and even underlings who will help you fail.
We can all recount the stories of relationships between department heads. Interestingly, I have found that many city managers are clueless since department heads all put on a good face in the staff meeting or when talking one-on-one with the executive. But the wasted time is senseless when spent on making yourself look good, and someone else look bad, only understood by the unpublished underground org chart. How can it be that so many people can rise through the ranks through their technical excellence only to be newbies again when they reach a supervisory or managerial level? How can we miss the most vital ingredient in relationship management – learning how to surrender without the actions and words being construed as a weakness rather than a strength?
And then we move to the elected body where instead of one executive there is a group that must make decisions. Worse, and I think this is the most wrong-headed anointment of all, they have committed to fight for their territory with an abused excuse that it is out of duty and honor.
Whoa! So we have moved to the ugliest of motives for making decisions that affect the future of our communities. I’m here to win! I was elected to fight for my district. My method, sanctioned by my voters (all few hundred of them) is to take no prisoners. The adrenaline rush of power numbs the senses for building trusting relationships. So we form a few coalitions to get the needed minimum votes and take charge of the politics.
Questions & Considerations
Are we to live forever in an environment of stalemates and that be the best we can do? Is that all there is? Not for me, life is too short.
How can we move to an environment where the art of professional and personal surrendering is viewed as a strength? Somehow we have to set a standard to replace the argument that to win is everything at all costs and with no concern for relationships? Who taught us that mindset? How can we raise the bar and give key managers and leaders permission to operate on an adult-to-adult level? How can we teach that it is partly a skill to be learned and partly a decision you have to make to transform building better relationships into a top priority?
Is it possible that communication, trust and respect be made the hallmarks of an organization? Would it make a difference if we were to put the topic of successful surrendering in front of our organizations? Is this a skill that can be taught? Is this a potential cultural amendment to our corporate constitution? By that I mean genuine change that resets the organizational GPS for future decades.
I think it is possible, but it would take some leadership. LFM
Originally written and sent to the McKinney City Council August 31, 2014. Updated March 10, 2016.