Conform or lead . . . You decide.
Marc, steam plant supervisor for a paper mill in northern Ontario, Canada, told Session 2B of the Leadership Development Lab:
"Back in 1981, a long time ago, but I can remember it like it was yesterday, I was the helper on a boom truck. We left the mill site to go pick up a large diesel generator at a shop on the edge of town. On our way back, due to the size and weight of the generator, my coworker had to drive really slow to make sure it would remain stabilized on the back of the boom truck. There was a car following behind us that kept on honking their horn at us. My coworker who was driving told me, 'When we get to the corner, I will stop the truck. The car will go by on your side. Lower your window and give her hell.' I said, 'No' and he argued, 'Yes. What can she do?' So he stopped the truck, I lowered my window, and as the car went by, I started yelling at her.
She drove on by and we laughed and kept on our way, going back to the mill. Later that same day, we were called to a 12:30 safety meeting. I got there a little bit early to find out that there were only myself, my foreman, and our superintendent just the three of us in attendance. The next thing I found out was that the honking lady had called the mill and told the mill manager what I had done. Boy, did I have egg on my face!
I learned two important lessons from this experience first, even if another person is engaging in unacceptable behavior, there is no excuse for me to join them in being unacceptable in my behavior. I also learned
not to go against my best instincts, no matter how I am being pressured by others. The action I call you to take is to never lower yourself to the level of those who act childishly, and don't give into the pressure of the crowd to be little. The benefit you will gain is healthy selfesteem, and you will make an important contribution to creating a high performance culture, a learning organization that sustains all your gains."
The pressure to conform and the opportunity to lead are always in conflict. You and I will be given countless opportunities in our social, personal, and career lives to either conform to what is popular take the path of least resistance or lead to what is productive take the road less traveled. This is what leaders do they call others to the high road, and as an empowering leader, that's what you're called to do call your team to the high road.