Leadership Emerging

Russ Volckmann

Elizabeth Doty. The Compromise Trap: How to Thrive at Work Without Selling Your Soul. San Francisco: Barrett-Koehler, 2009.

doty coverThe Foreword is written by Art Kleiner, editor of the online publication Strategry+Business. He notes that business ethics is a thorny issue. He values this book because of “the questions it raises about organizational ethics and its underlying message about the practice of healthy compromise.” A central point of the book is “The relationship between an employee and an organization is critically important to both, and when it is compromised both the individual and the institutions suffer–and so dopes the world around them.”

Already we have two very different uses of the term compromise. One is to come to agreement with the system of which you are a member or some element of it. The second is to negate something that is important to you in that process. It is this latter sense that is the focus of Doty’s book. She appeals to our wanting to live in integrity, even in the face of the pressure we feel at work to shift away from that through compromise. She urges us to use peripheral vision, to embrace that which is on the periphery of our knowing. We can find sanity in seeing more of reality and we can tune into our values for what is truly important to us.

Following a discussion of misconceptions about compromise at work, such as “unhealthy pressure is the leader’s faulty” and “you should just say no,” she encourages us to “redefine the game.” This means being purposeful in the face of unhealthy pressure to compromise you values. To do this means to engage in a professional quest for a worthwhile challenge and a degree of freedom that allows us to thrive in the process. If we begin with the assumption that people and systems can learn by taking a leader role, self-authored by asking questions and reframing issues.

To take on a role means tapping into one’s strengths an integrating them into the story about the reframing. This is done through exploring a larger field, taking in more of what is possible in any given situation. Key to this is defining a “worthy enough win: This means recognizing that whatever is important enough to give you a reason for courage and a sense of purpose is what unlocks your strengths” and “lifts you out of the traps of fear and ego…” In addition, it is important to build your support in the system so that when you stick your neck out there are those who will support you.

A how to book to consider, the most important thing about this is about getting in touch with our authentic self and broadening the scope of what that means. It does not eliminate risk, but supports strategies for maintaining integrity in the face of it.

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