Summit Wrong in Leadership

Leadership can be tricky. It can be hard. Doing the right thing is not always the popular thing. But nice guys do sometimes finish first, even when they should finish last.

I just finished watching a TV programme called the Summit. It’s about 14 everyday Australians who have two weeks to climb a South Island mountain carrying a million dollars divided equally between them. Each day, they get to vote someone off the mountain and take that person’s share of the loot. Those who make the summit get the reward. Spoiler alert, if you have not seen the programme, three make it to the top. As they stand on the peak they think they will each get an even share of the loot. But there’s a catch. The 11 people who have been ‘voted off the mountain’ get to decide how much of the loot each of the successful climbers gets.

Of the three successful climbers, one got half the money and the other two a quarter each. The guy who got half was funny, self-deprecating, endearing. Good qualities. However, he was also the least fit of all the 14 on the journey and the least competent when it came to tackling challenges along the way. On more than one occasion, his slowness jeopardised everyone making the summit.  At no time did he ever step up and take a leadership role. The other two successful climbers did step up when needed. They had to make some hard decisions which they ultimately paid for. The divvy of the loot came down to a popularity contest. The nice guy was the big winner even though he was clearly the least competent of the three successful climbers. The other two climbers weren’t villains. They were good people who had to make unpopular decisions.

So doing the right thing is not always easy, and it might not always be popular. In fact, it’s  often thankless. But if we believe that the decision we are making is the right thing to do, we should still do it. We should explain why we are making the decision, and if possible, reference how it aligns with the organisation’s values and purpose. We should acknowledge the perspectives and feelings of others who do not agree with us. We should act with grace and humility.  If we do these things people may not like the decision but, given time, they will respect you for how you went about it. I can’t helping thinking that in a few months’ time those that voted for giving the nice guy half the loot will be thinking they didn’t do the right thing.