There seems to be an enduring belief that the only way to achieve consensus is compromise, that problem solving and perpetual movement in a win-win universe is the only way to move ahead. This orientation often associated in academia with the non-zero sum game or Getting to Yes implies a certain incrementalism. A certain tactical ability to make adjustments and move ahead a few steps at a time while every so often taking a few steps backwards always in the hope that you, in some circumvented way, will reach your goal.
The problem of course is that often, in the pursuit of compromise and consensus, the original goal, the original intent, is lost and you are dismissed as a waffling figurehead, expeditious, uncommitted, and, at worst, cast off as a traitor.
Compromise and consensus is at one end of the continuum on the other end there is the notion of the hero charging into windmills living in the world of win-lose, seeing only victory, and running full steam ahead into zero-sum negotiations.
This world of aspirations, dreams, and visions, is the same world that gets us elected, gets us on the pedestal, and keeps us on the podium. This is the world that results in high turnout, this is the world of impassioned commitment, and this is the world that turns many away from the pragmatism of one candidate to the ideology of another.
So here’s the conundrum: you get elected because of your vision and now you have to govern with the tactical skills of execution. At some point along the line someone will feel that you betrayed your original intent, the original collected vision. How do you deal with this?
Leadership lesson number one that we can learn from the last two years of the Obama administration is simple: be tactical when everyone is still overwhelmed by your vision, achieve compromise when everyone still fears your charisma, execute while people still over estimate your base.
If you begin to compromise your vision because it’s obvious you’ve lost momentum than the chipping away at your goals and reputation begins. Slowly but surely your opponents will discuss your weaknesses and your supporters will lament your fickleness. You may celebrate your pragmatism, but it may be too late. So, lesson number one: compromise early, while you’re still sitting on Rocinante.
Picture credit: A journey around my skull