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Last week, I said that the answer to nearly every question regarding a leadership transition is, “It depends!” However, that answer is not acceptable for certain questions. The second blog in the four-part series on leadership transitions could be titled, “Taking a Stand!” Alternately, it could be titled, “Know Which Hill to Die on.” In comparison with previous blogs, I’ll be brief!

Countless times, when asked what I’d do if presented with a particular leadership challenge, I’ve quoted what Stephen Sample states in The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, “leadership is highly situational and contingent.” Frequently, I’d fall back on “It depends.” In doing so, I’d focus on the situational aspect of leadership and fail to address the contingent aspect. The contingent aspect surfaces when failing to take a stand will undermine a leader. Core values are an example of a contingency. Simply stated, leaders can’t be wishy washy when it comes to core values for the organization or when it comes to personal core values.

A recent example of this received international attention. It involved an issue of hate speech at three prominent universities. The universities’ presidents appeared before a congressional committee to address specific questions arising from the October 7, 2023, attack on Israel by Hamas and its aftereffects on their campuses. When pressed to answer a question based on a binary choice of answers, a response of “it depends” was unacceptable. For at least two of the universities, a leadership transition resulted. The new leaders face the daunting task of restoring the university’s reputation and regaining the trust and support of its alumni, faculty, governing board, staff, and other stakeholders.

In watching this play out on television and observing the subsequent media coverage, I recalled a quote from Shakespeare’s The Second Part of Henry the Sixth, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”[i] I suspect each president was advised by her legal counsel and advisors to stick to the script and talking points during the hearing. Under the stress of questioning, I suspect they didn’t hear the questions dispassionately, particularly the word “genocide” that was included in the questions. If they had, I’m sure the answers would have been obvious—neither university condones calls for genocide of any group of people. Period!

In situations like this, stick to your core values. Know which hill you’re prepared to die on. In the heat of the moment, don’t try to persuade someone to seek middle ground. Easier said than done. I know!

Next Week: Part III

[i] William Shakespeare, The Second Part of Henry the Sixth, Part 2, Act 4, Scene 2, Line 57.