Have you ever been in a situation where you felt compelled to tackle a challenging situation because, deep down, you knew it was the right thing to do? Perhaps you knew no one else would do it, and the thought of turning a blind eye and running away was not an option you could live with. Or maybe there have been times in your life when you remained silent about an issue, and you live with a deep sense of regret about not having spoken up about it. If you can relate to any of this, you are not alone. We all experience situations in life that lead to a crossroads and a decision must be made. These are the moments that define us and show us what we are made of. In times of great difficulty, tough decisions must be made, and the courage to speak the truth is crucial.
I recall finding myself at a crossroads as Chair of a not-for-profit. Several staff members from the organisation met with me to report a serious issue hiding under the surface about which the board was unaware. The staff reporting the matter knew the situation had the potential to send the business into liquidation. While they were uncomfortable raising the matter and did not want to be disloyal to the CEO, they felt a sense of duty to reveal the truth for the benefit of everyone in the organisation. They knew they could trust me with this information and that I would take it further due to my love and care for what the organisation did for the community.
My initial reaction was not wanting to believe it. Then, I was momentarily tempted to resign. Given the severity of the situation, leaving would have been the easy way out, and the thought of doing so was appealing. But now that I was aware of the matter, I felt I had no choice but to take action and bring it to the board’s attention, particularly in my position as Chair. Despite the presence of fear, my sense of responsibility to and care for the organisation gave me the courage to call an emergency board meeting.
The board members did not want to hear the damning information I was passing on. There was an element of disbelief based on their view of who they knew the executive to be. One of them said, “That can’t be right; I know this man, and he would not be involved in anything like that.” His words influenced some of the other board members, making it even more challenging for me to encourage them to see the reality of the situation. Even a senior board member on the finance committee was in denial, despite the fact that he should have known what was happening due to his access to the organisation’s financial statements.
Under these circumstances, I could see two possible options available to me:
I could resign and pretend nothing had happened, or
Tackle the situation head-on and approach the board with a solution.
I chose the latter option. I recommended we end the CEO’s contract and recruit a replacement immediately. Some board members wanted to performance manage the CEO instead. However, I was able to convince them that this was no longer an option, given the magnitude of the situation. Once I became aware of what was happening, there was no going back. I simply could not live with myself had I walked away and not addressed the issue head-on.
How we are being makes an enormous difference
While I did not have the language back then to articulate what I know now, as a Being Profile Accredited Practitioner today, I can see the Aspects of Being that I was bringing to the situation. They include fear, courage, responsibility, assertiveness, care, presence, awareness, integrity and effectiveness. Despite the fear I felt at the time, I was courageous enough to call the meeting and chose, with responsibility, to face the situation rather than run from it. I was being assertive by having a straight conversation with the board. This was a time when I was being 100% effective. My integrity was in place, and the level of care I had for the organisation and staff was evident. I was fully aware of and present to the situation, including the complete lack of integrity demonstrated by the CEO in question and the board members who turned a blind eye.
It takes courage to have challenging and confronting conversations. I was fearful, given the powerful corporate roles some board members held in the business world. What would I know? They had far more experience than me! Once I had made my decision, I did not back down. I spoke clearly and candidly of our higher purpose – the reason the organisation existed was to serve the community in need. Our role as board members was to ensure the organisation fulfilled this higher purpose and to support the staff in carrying out our mission. The situation was completely unworkable, and, as a board, we had to take the appropriate action.
The end result is that I was appointed interim CEO until a new CEO was hired. The successful candidate was perfect for the organisation and she and I formed an excellent partnership as CEO and Chair. Under our leadership, the organisation’s turnover quadrupled over the next few years, and the community we were there to serve benefited greatly.
I grew from this experience. I saw the organisation transform, and I changed too. It taught me several skills I have since drawn on to support my clients in their own transformation.
Are you dealing with a challenging situation?
We all know leadership is challenging when times are tough, and it takes care, responsibility and courage to break through. It’s easy when things are going well. So, if you are dealing with a challenging situation at work, I suggest you become present to the fact that you have a choice in the matter. You might be tempted to ignore it and resign, like I was. However, you can take it on, despite your fear and concern that no one will support you. After all, if you don’t take it on, who will? Can you live with yourself if you don’t take action now?
Although the situation with the board was highly challenging for me at the time, it taught me some valuable lessons. I learned that I have the courage to step up when I care deeply about something that matters to me. In that instance, I cared about the people in the business and the community we served. I learned about my higher purpose and what I had direct responsibility for. Later, working with the new CEO taught me about the incredible value of partnership as a Way of Being and how partnering with the right people for the right reasons can deliver a greater outcome than you could ever hope to achieve alone. Sometimes the most significant lessons to be learned come from the toughest challenges. Doing what you know is right instead of running away delivers the most effective outcomes for all concerned, including you. If you are currently dealing with a challenging situation and would like some support, I invite you to connect with me here.