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How to carry out a job responsibility you disagree with?

Imagine this. Your organisation is suddenly thrust into a financial maelstrom, necessitating a workforce reduction of 20%. This predicament, possibly taking years to recover from, positions you to share this distressing news with your team. The challenge is magnified by your deep personal connections within the team. Having mentored many, and assured them of their bright futures at the company, they look to you with trust and fellowship. Now, tasked with this duty, it is crucial to proceed with empathy, transparency, and a pledge to assist those impacted through this difficult period.

To make matters worse, you don’t agree with the decision. You believe that the situation may not be that bad as to warrant such a drastic step. It’s a double whammy: you feel terrible about the whole situation and believe it can be avoided.

So, what do you do?

Your approach to this challenging situation will be dictated by your role. As a senior leader, the onerous task of deciding on reductions might fall to you. If you’re a middle manager, implementing these decisions becomes your responsibility. Or, as someone newly promoted into a senior role, you may face tough choices to steer the company through the crisis. Regardless of your position, the focus must remain on navigating these situations with utmost empathy, fostering open, honest dialogue, and providing strong support to those impacted. Reflecting on my time as MD at Peer 1, the value of our transparent culture was undeniable, playing a crucial role in transforming our leadership team and contributing significantly to our business success.

Being in a senior role offers a more manageable perspective during such a dilemma. Even if the decision doesn’t align with your personal view, having a comprehensive organisational insight helps understand the broader context, beyond individual perspectives. This broader understanding, despite personal misgivings, provides the ability to comprehend the situation fully, helping you take a more informed approach to addressing the crisis.

As a middle manager, your proximity to the team members directly impacted by the changes means you’re deeply invested in their wellbeing, lacking the wider organisational perspective. Your focus leans towards ethical considerations and the repercussions of how those affected perceive you, particularly when you are not the one facing job loss. This position places you in a delicate balance between organisational directives and personal empathy for your team.

Do you trust the senior leaders in your company?

Team Player

It’s a common belief that success hinges on two types of individuals: those who adeptly lead and those skilled in following others. 

This isn’t about unwavering faith; rather, it’s about trusting in the vision and decisions of leaders, even when their rationale isn’t immediately clear. Independent thinkers will inevitably find themselves at odds with leadership or peers. If there’s a lack of trust in these decisions, it might be time to explore opportunities where trust in leadership aligns with one’s values. Conversely, trusting in leadership means finding ways to overcome resistance and fulfilling assigned roles effectively.

How can you carry out a responsibility you don’t agree with

Once you have decided that you trust your leadership and you will need to swallow the bitter pill, here are a few steps you can take to make this easier and psychologically bearable:

  1. Get clear on what you really object to

Identifying the root of your disagreement is crucial. Does this situation conflict with your value system? Do you feel let down? Do you feel you are letting others down? Do you think there’s a better way of handling this situation? 

Write it down. Name and define the specific problem you have with the task at hand. This will help you look at it from a different perspective. You may realise the problem is not as grave as initially thought.

This approach not only fosters a transparent discussion but will help you communicate the necessary actions to your team effectively.

  1. Understand the rationale behind the assignment

Understanding the reasons behind challenging tasks can significantly alter your perspective, promoting a broader viewpoint. Multiple factors, including financial considerations, strategic planning, competitive standing, and market requirements, influence decisions. Acknowledging this can mitigate frustration and demotivation.

Gaining clarity empowers you with confidence, illustrating that despite less-than-ideal circumstances, there’s a path through challenges. Understanding this is key for leading your team effectively, as knowing the stakes and goals clarifies the mission for everyone involved.

  1. Think about the potential benefits of setting your disagreement aside

Does the success of your task directly impact your future within the company? If that’s the case, then it’s worth prioritising this over your personal opinion. This approach underscores the importance of strategic compromise in career advancement.

Prioritising the demands of your role over personal preferences will show your adaptability and dedication to the company’s broader objectives. Such commitment enhances your profile within the business and lays the groundwork for future advancement opportunities, making it a crucial strategy for achieving long-term professional success.

  1. Think about the greater purpose
Woman walking along Mountain

Occasionally, you might find yourself in a role that, on a personal level, doesn’t fill you with joy, yet it serves a greater purpose for the organisation. Purpose is what sustains you when something’s difficult.

Thinking back on a client session with seven senior leaders, they couldn’t get past what they’d said and done to each other in the past. I told them they’d lost sight of their purpose as a united whole. It didn’t help that they represented two distinct businesses in a group. The two CEOs and their teams were in dispute. And they were measuring their success by the financial performance of the two business streams. I said, ‘What if you measure your businesses in terms of their contribution to the overall purpose of the group?’ And you know what? It made the financial imbalance go away. In reality, the smaller business could potentially have a larger impact on the group’s purpose.  

In the end, purpose saved the day.

If we take the earlier example of reducing the workforce by 20% to safeguard the company’s future—this difficult decision ultimately protects the remaining 80%, including yours. Prioritising the organisation’s welfare over your own satisfaction becomes essential in such critical moments.

  1. Are you aware of the bigger picture?

Your role and expertise shape your understanding of what’s happening within the organisation, whereas senior leaders may access broader insights and data. Recognising that they might know more than you do is crucial in appreciating the depth and necessity of certain decisions. This awareness can foster a more collaborative mindset, even without full visibility of the situation.

  1. Talk to someone you trust

Seeking guidance from a mentor, whether internal or external, a colleague not involved in the situation, or even a superior, can give you fresh insights. Their experience, understanding of the organisational culture, and strategic viewpoint offer valuable perspectives that can enrich your approach and decision-making process. 

Facing conflicts in the workplace is a standard aspect of professional life. In truth, these challenges play an essential role in your development as a professional. While they might initially lead to frustration and internal conflict, navigating through them allows you to emerge wiser, resilient, and seasoned. Various tools and resources are at your disposal to aid in understanding your hesitations and reactions more clearly, or you might craft your methods to examine your thought process, guiding you towards making informed decisions.

Written by business growth coach Dominic Monkhouse. Find out more about his work here. Read his new book, ‘Mind Your F**king Business’ here.

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