Leadership is an action-oriented activity. As a leader, part of your job is to know the right thing to do and get it done. Your role requires decisiveness, good judgment, and the courage to act. You must be the kind of leader that others will not just obey but follow.
That said, as a leader, you always work for someone. No matter how high you go, there is always someone you are accountable to and gives you direction. As any experienced leader will tell you, the ability to be a good follower is as essential as being a good leader yourself.
So what happens when you receive a directive or get guidance from your boss that you believe is incorrect? Perhaps it’s short-sighted or the result of an incomplete understanding of the organization or the situation. These situations test not only a leader’s humility but also their character and professionalism. At this juncture, your job is to lead UP the organizational structure – to explain to those you work for why you feel the decision is incorrect and to suggest an alternate course of action. It is absolutely a leader’s job to push back when a superior gives guidance that the leader believes to be incorrect. A good leader dares to do so when necessary – tactfully, respectfully, but firmly.
However, there will be times when, despite your certainty and your profound objection to a directive, your supervisor tells you to get it done. You’ve protested the directive, and you’ve been told no. You’ve offered an alternate solution or course of action and again been told no. Now is the time when a leader must draw on their sense of character and do what they are described – and do it enthusiastically and to the best of their ability.
The military often refers to this sequence of events as “Protest, Suggest, Salute.”
A word of caution here. At this point, the leader may be tempted to offload some of the responsibility for this course of action from themselves to their supervisor. Here’s what that looks like:
“Look, I don’t agree with it either, but the boss says we gotta get it done.”
“Don’t shoot the messenger – this wasn’t my idea.”
Weak, inexperienced leaders often see statements like this as a way to maintain their subordinates’ trust in them or to carry favor with those that work for them. The irony here is that you minimize your significance in the organization y framing yourself as simply a means to an end; if you’re just a “messenger,” are you a leader? Suppose you explain to those you lead that all of you are doing something just because the boss says so. In that case, you are explicitly reducing your authority in front of those you lead – and you’re exhibiting very poor professionalism in the process.
Isn’t it possible that those you work for have some perspective you don’t? Perhaps they’ve had some experience that you haven’t, and that experience has taught them something that you don’t yet know. Humility is a powerful tool here. Remember that no one organization is more significant than any one person – even if that person is you! You’re a steward of those you lead, and it’s right to take that seriously. Push back when you need to and do so with courage. But if you’ve done your job by pushing back and have been told to execute anyway, then it’s time to continue to do your job and execute. Own the decision yourself – without shifting blame – and lead your team with humility.
Shane Walsh brings deep and successful operational, business development, leadership, and management experience spanning six different industries that includes military service. Shane is the son of a Founder who built a small industrial equipment rental company in Houston, Texas and sold the company to a large private strategic acquirer shortly after Shane joined the business. While transitioning and scaling the company from a family-owned business to a multi-site corporate enterprise with no employee turnover, he rose to the position of Division Vice President and led the business through two private equity sales and two recapitalizations over the next six years. Shane oversaw the growth of the business from 14 to 50 employees, and revenue growth from $4M to more than $18M. During this growth, the company introduced new products and services and expanded its footprint into new geographic territories, including three new regional offices.
During his tenure, Shane identified, interviewed, hired, and trained each of the additional personnel in the company; designed and executed all of the personnel training programs; and developed expansion plans for new employees and new regional offices, all of which led the organization to significant profit increases in their first years of operation.
Shane later served as Senior Vice President of a Houston-based oilfield services business and supervised the well service and water transfer businesses in Texas, Colorado, North Dakota and California. His division included 200 employees and generated revenues of over $45M. After relocating to Austin in 2013, Shane served as Director of Business Development for an Austin-based software company specializing in RFID-enabled asset management. He was also recruited to serve on the Board of Directors of a venture-backed technology company.
Shane also gained valuable leadership and management experience as a Field Director for a nationwide financial services company, where he identified, assessed, recruited, trained and led a team of investment professionals providing structured products and services. His personal production ranked in the top 5% of his peer group, and his team rose to become the top ranked unit among his peer groups in the Southern region of the United States.
In 2015, Shane co-founded a venture capital firm with another Army veteran to invest in Texas-based technology companies with significant early traction and a proven product. Most importantly, the firm based investment decisions largely on the leadership ability of the team in place – not simply on their intelligence or ability to innovate. Shane built all of the firm’s processes, procedures and infrastructure and served as the operating partner of the firm.
Most recently, Shane served as the Chief Operating Officer for a large commercial real estate firm in Austin. Shane led efforts to build structure and sustainability into the business during a period of rapid growth, and simultaneously launched a new investment fund to invest in Austin-based commercial real estate projects.
Shane currently serves as President of Rent Equip, a private equity-backed company headquartered in Austin. In his current role, Shane oversees all company operations as well as the company’s ambitious growth strategy across Central Texas and beyond.
Shane received a four-year Army ROTC scholarship and earned a BS in Marketing at Boston College. He subsequently served in the United States Army with the 1st Infantry Division as a Tank Platoon Leader and Tank Company Executive Officer. He is an avid triathlete and has completed over 30 sprint, Olympic, and half-iron distance races. Shane resides in Austin, Texas with his wife and two sons.