Last week after a training session, I had an interesting conversation with a couple of participants. The class was about negotiating work assignments, difficult for most of us—saying no or even entering into a conversation about our capacity or capabilities is difficult.
For many of us, we just suck it up and say yes. And then try our hardest to make it work, compromising ourselves, our stress, our families….and over time, our health and wellbeing. One young professional said, I didn’t know that saying no was even an option, I was never taught how.
NOTE: I was not advocating for going around saying NO to everything, rather being cognizant of your own capabilities, capacity and needs so that you can say yes without compromising quality or yourself; then negotiating on assignments from a place of partnership and collaboration.
But this conversation was not specifically about negotiating a work assignment. It was about being assertive. The rights that you have. Understanding them, being clear on them. Honoring them, communicating them. And ultimately being clear on the boundaries around you to protect your values.
The example was about standing up for something. In this case, the “someone’s” who were left off an email that was an acknowledgement of efforts on a project. Some of the people who worked on the project were excluded from the communication (the women versus the men).
And an individual noticed this and brought it up. Now I may not have all the details completely, but what struck me was at the core of the example. Notice it? Bring it up? I was impressed because at that point in my career (aka early on) would I be the one to bring it up? Notice it, probably yes. Do something with it? and I kept thinking…. What are you willing to stand up for?
Because each day we could notice situations like this one. And while there are big bold moves we can make in life to advocate for those who are wronged, those who are being harmed in a big way or on a large scale...we have to recognize that standing up for something or someone can also be an everyday act. Smaller scale, but in the moment we see something and recognize we have a choice to make.
What you’re willing to stand up for involves many layers. It starts with your values. What do you care about? Integrity? Equality? Diversity? Accountability? What are the core beliefs that you want to advocate for? Your values provide clarity, focus and purpose.
Then there is the noticing. The young man who notices that the women were excluded on an email communication. Not everyone even notices this detail. Or if it’s noticed, that it’s problematic. And then it is about taking action.
And I don’t mean we run around see a potential “wrong” and assume bad intentions. Because the mindset of “catching” someone is different from noticing and inquiring. Giving someone a chance to respond, to clarify, or maybe to come to the realization that they harmed someone else through their words or actions.
This is a purposeful strategy, designed to educate, create change. And live the values you care most about.
I believe that leadership is not about tiles, or roles or positions. It’s about being clear on your vision and values and purpose. It’s about knowing who you are and how you want to contribute to the success of the world. And the scope and scale of that world gets to be defined by you. Big or small, wide or narrow, the scale is less relevant than the deliberate choice and the courage to act.
Ask yourself….are you willing to engage and advocate for something or someone you believe it? Are you willing to ask the tough questions, in a respectful way? Willing to look awkward? Willing to feel uncomfortable? Willing to be wrong in your conclusions, despite being right in your intentions?
It starts first with knowing you. Pay attention. And make a conscious choice.