The recent news around the measles epidemic and the controversy over vaccinations made me start thinking about the principles involved. I guess there are many principles, but perhaps the two that matter are (a) individual freedom and (b) providing for the common good. And of course, as I am wont to do, I then thought about how this applies to leadership.
Because I don’t want to get into the middle of the emotional discussion around vaccinations (I do have a strongly held opinion, it’s just not relevant to this discussion), I will move immediately to the topic of leaders sticking to principles versus being stubborn to a fault. As leaders, we have to walk a fine line between being committed to the goal, values and vision on the one side and being open minded on the other side.
It isn’t unusual to have competing values and/or principles and I’m confident that you can think of many examples. The question is, how do you handle the conflict? Are you willing to listen as if you are wrong? Can you entertain the thought that the principle you are sticking too may be in conflict with another valid principle? And are you able to not only think through to your conclusion, but explain it to your organization as well?
It’s important to think this through for yourself so that you can lead your team through resolution of conflicts in principles and values. The process matters. One article I read on the vaccination topic pointed out that it would do no good to shame the “no-vaccers.” They would only dig their heels in more. On the other side, many states are now scrambling to close the personal exemption rights when it comes to vaccines. As leaders, we must somehow find a way to bridge competing principles. We can sometimes appeal to another broader principle. I suspect, in the vaccine case, the broader or higher principle will be applied by state leaders: the need for our society to protect the innocent (babies under the age of 1 year and people with compromised immune systems). It’s an interesting study in leadership.