"WELL, MY LORD, I AM NOT CONVINCED."
7 February 2016
"I'D RATHER BE CONVINCED THAN DEFEATED"
There is a beautiful scene in Downton Abbey where the master of the house, Lord Grantham, discusses some plans for a Wold War I memorial in the village with his butler, Mr Carson. Carson, always the loyal servant, is not happy with some details of the plan, and, aware of his own dignity in these proceedings, despite being used to the obedience usually required in his role, he utters the immortal words: “Well, my Lord, I am not convinced. And I’d rather be convinced than defeated.”
These words are, I believe, the epitome of good leadership. Those who lead others will ultimately have the right to make the decisions. Those who are being led will ultimately have to accept the decisions that those above them have reached. And yet: how much better is it if leaders work hard at consulting properly with those they lead, ideally before reaching a decision rather than afterwards, and in the end convince rather than defeat them – even at the risk of losing an argument every now and then. Loyal following needs to be earned, not expected.
A confident leader can afford to lose the odd battle and allow themselves to be convinced by the arguments of those below them, and all the more willingly, in such an empowering system of shared leadership, will their staff follow them in the bigger matters where compromising on fundamental values would indeed be weakness. Holding firm in those things that really matter is a sign of strength; having to win every little battle on the basis of positional authority alone can often be a sign of insecurity and have a demoralising and disempowering effect on staff.
Leading other people can be a complicated business. We have to allow for difficult personalities, for different perspectives and for the varying priorities others may have. And yet: how much more satisfying is it to convince people of a shared vision rather than, in the words of Carson, 'defeat' them. If you get people to buy into your vision rather than simply obey you, you can achieve so much more and build your house on firmer ground.
Or to quote Desmond Tutu, the former South African archbishop: “My father used to say: ‘Don’t raise your voice. Improve your argument.’”
At times, this can be a challenge for us all.