Don’t be Afraid to Force Your Will

Oct 01, 1999

I have had a chance to work with a great number of firm leaders over the years. Some were incredibly effective people. Some were incredibly ineffective, too. When you look at the characteristics of those that could make great things happen versus those that couldn’t, one trait really stands out. These people aren’t afraid to force their will on others. Just the notion of “forcing one’s will on another” is uncomfortable to most of us. Architects, engineers, planners, and scientists are nice people. And nice people don’t do things like that. Only a meglomaniac would force his or her will on someone else. The word “forcing” has a negative, dehumanizing connotation as well. But it doesn’t have to be like that. It could be something different. Here’s what I mean: The best leaders know what they want. I think some people get confused about this personality trait. They think it’s somehow less than enlightened to know what you want, to not be interested in another choice, to not want additional information once your mind is made up. But in my experience, knowing what you want is critical to leadership. How the field of choices is so quickly narrowed I cannot tell you. All I know is that it is essential if you are going to get others to commit to a single goal. The best leaders don’t give up easily. A leader may know what he or she wants, but if that goal is quickly abandoned at the first sign of resistance, then it won’t be achieved. The best leaders stay with it. They keep focused, keep trying different things, and keep working on the problem (or the opportunity) until the puzzle pieces all fit together. In short, they make things happen. The best leaders are not swayed by criticism. Anyone who tries to do anything that hasn’t been done before (or that was tried by someone else who failed) is going to be criticized. The masses can’t understand— why would you want to do something that hasn’t been done before? That’s a fool’s game, right? There will always be critics. These are the people who have to show you how intelligent they are every day by pointing out why something won’t work. If you are overly sensitive to this kind of criticism, you will never be able to swim upstream. You will always second-guess yourself. The best leaders don’t mind selling their ideas. “Selling” means building a case for what you think needs to happen. There are many ways to do it. Good logic appeals to the smart folks most of us work with in the A/E/P or environmental business. But fear of loss is another appeal, as is painting a picture of how good things could be if a particular course of action were followed. In any event, the effective leader will get out of his or her office, get in front of the people in the firm, and get the idea across. This has to be done by the leader, personally, and cannot be delegated to the minions who do the leader’s dirty work. The best leaders will make a decision. They know when to stop studying and take action. You cannot get others to follow if you are not a doer yourself. And you can’t “do” if you are paralyzed by the need for 100% of all available information before you can make a decision. The strong leader gets his or her will implemented in large part because of this ability to make a decision, despite a lack of complete information at times. The best leaders have powerful personalities. They may be loud. They may be boisterous. They are most certainly noisy, colorful, or noteworthy in some way that makes people talk (and listen to what they have to say). The visibility gained through the power of personality ensures an audience for the leader who wants to let his will be known. And that makes it easier to sell an idea once the leader has locked in on it.
Leaders who meet these criteria find that others will line up to help them achieve their will. Their ability to force their wills on others is used for good, not evil. And everyone in the organizations they serve is a beneficiary.
Originally published 11/01/1999

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