NEW YORK (TheStreet) - Under intense, conflicting pressure from both parties and the scrutiny of the American people, President Obama agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts. Though most experts agree this compromise was the right thing to do and the markets responded favorably, the president has fallen prey to criticism from both sides.
The left vilifies him for capitulating and the right accuses him of "triangulation" -- essentially enacting Republican ideas to boost his success record and win favor with voters.
As the New Year ushers in a divided Congress, more such events are likely. But is compromise always negative? As identical twins that run a business together, we say, "absolutely not!"
But after 10 years as business owners, we know that compromise is often viewed as a sign of weakness, triangulation or breaking promises. To tackle misconceptions (and quell the ever-lively rumor mill), leaders must do what they can to ensure their employees perceive their actions as motivated by strong convictions and not acquiescence.
Misconception 1 -- Compromise denotes weakness:
Many see compromise as synonymous with capitulation. But compromise rarely manifests as a 50/50 split! In deciding with which company to make a deal or to which company to outsource services, only one can be chosen.
So clearly, when two companies -- or two divisions within a company -- are negotiating, compromise most often means one party concedes 100%. In the long term, however, the two parties expect a balanced relationship. Only when one company/division continually caves in could compromise truly be called weakness.
Just as bridges built to flex with the wind display greater strength under pressure, so do leaders with flexible minds and policies stand a greater chance of survival. Adapting a plan to new conditions, which often involves modifying existing deals or changing business strategies, shows strong analytical skills.
But unless your employees hear otherwise, compromise will be perceived as weakness. Not every employee needs to know the rationale behind every decision, but key management must be included during the decision making process so that the right message is delivered to employees.
Misconception 2 -- Compromise represents triangulation:
Not every compromise comes with an ulterior motive. Sometimes a business owner must bridge the gap between two diverging groups within his/her own firm and does so by implementing ideas from both sides to form a unified strategy.
Though perhaps this is "triangulation" by definition, perhaps it is not. The term "triangulation" has become a thorn in the Obama administration's paw as it implies a leader is motivated by strategy and not by conviction.
To the employees who share the boss' belief from the start, triangulation may be considered powerful, as the owner appears to have the upper hand in negotiations. To the employees on the dissenting side of the negotiations, triangulation can be interpreted as hostile and wily.
In fact, a former aide of President Clinton, whose re-election strategy gave birth to the term, called triangulation a fancy word for betrayal. When leading a company, half of your employees doubting your motives is not acceptable.
To combat this, fortify decisions with concrete action that demonstrates a strong commitment to the goals of the firm as a whole. Even the scoffers will inevitably see the resolve to stay on course and, hopefully, fall in line appropriately.
Misconception 3 -- Compromise means breaking promises:
No legitimate leader would intentionally make a promise he planned to break in the future. She or he formulates a strategy with sites on the goal, much like the captain of a ship charts his course to a destination. But sailors who do not change course with knowledge of an impending storm would be considered foolish. Likewise, when economic conditions change, employers may be forced to modify the terms of promises made to employees.
However, this can lead to accusations of over-promising and under-delivering, flip-flopping, and the like. But employees must understand that conditions change rapidly. As stated, adapting a plan to new conditions shows keen analytical skills, a key trait of strong leadership.
To protect themselves from the start, business owners must first do their best to veer off course as little as possible. When diverting from the plan is necessary, a rationale should be offered so that the employees have the information available to glean an understanding of the market analysis or business trends that prompted the change of strategy.
Our society seems to shun compromise and cooperation in favor of competition and conflict. Gone are the days when sports satisfied our inner rivals: Today the public gorges on a feast of reality shows featuring contestants competing for everything from plastic surgery to money to love.
And while the thought of voting a colleague or two out of a firm forever is splendid, businesses can not function with competition alone. Cooperation and compromise remain important - and undervalued - skills.