Gun Control and Leadership

Gun Control and Leadership

04.19.13Daniel Dworkin

Executives must balance divisional priorities with what is best for the organization as a whole

Americans' perceptions of their elected officials are at a record low. Only 28 percent view the federal government favorably. That was before the Senate voted down a bi-partisan agreement on universal background checks for gun buyers. 90 percent of the country favored passing that legislation, which many considered table stakes for any serious effort to thwart the spread of gun violence that continues to plague the country. Governing against the will of the people is sure to bring down approval ratings further. It may cost some politicians their jobs too. For all types of leaders, there's an important lesson to take away from this situation. Never put personal gain before the greater good.

Let's focus on the four Democrats who broke party ranks to oppose this latest effort at gun law reform. Each of these politicians come from conservative, traditionally pro-gun parts of the country: Montana, Arkansas, Alaska, and North Dakota. They have constituents to answer to -- voters and interest groups -- and winning future elections means keeping them happy. Self-preservation is logical. Self-preservation that compromises your values and negatively impacts the health and safety of the country is a lack of leadership.

Executives are often forced to make decisions that pit what's best for them personally -- or for the functions or geographies they represent -- against what's best for the enterprise. Here's an example. A global healthcare company maintained a large product portfolio, including medicines that were profitable in some geographies, but unprofitable overall. In aggregate, the resource investment to produce, ship, and market these drugs couldn't be justified. Rectifying the situation demanded that some country leaders cut off what was for them a healthy revenue stream. In other words, they had to put the success of the company before themselves. The CEO sponsored a corporate initiative to rationalize the portfolio. Executives met with the impacted leaders to explain the business case for shutting down particular product lines and suggested concrete steps to fill sales gaps. Eventually, everyone got on board and the company was better off for it.

Corporations are different than governments. In many ways, getting things done in the private sector is far easier than in the public one. CEOs can make decisions (e.g., "Stop selling that drug.") and people fall in line. Team members may drag their feet through implementation or sabotage pet projects, but a strong leader can overcome those obstacles through the right mix of demands, influence, and compromise. Ultimately, executives that rise to the top of global organizations are those that get things done that benefit the whole pie, not just their slice. It's not being selfless. Prioritizing the bigger picture is being effective.

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