We are often told that compromise is a mature sign of negotiation. We are told that marriages are all about compromise. We are told that it’s better to give a little and keep the peace. We are told that compromise is a win-win… I don’t believe any of this!
King Solomon is considered to be one of the wisest men of history. His wisdom was dearly tested when two mothers came before his court claiming motherhood rights of the same baby. They both insisted that baby was theirs. Solomon, after hearing them and deliberating the problem, offered a compromise. He held the baby by his feet, drew out a large and sharp sword, and offered to cut the baby in half and give each mother half the baby. Compromise! (of course he didn’t. The real mother gave up her claim to save the baby, thereby revealing she was the real mother!)
Compromise is hardly a win-win, it is a reduction to average. Most often, when we compromise we create less than what is possible or desirable. Leaders who compromise risk becoming bureaucrats – guardians of the status quo, not agents of change and growth. Leaders are tasked with guiding people to create what is not easy or obvious; to create something new and expansive. Compromise is a path of mediocrity and familiarity.
Compromising can release the pressures of confrontation and dynamic tension that drive creativity and growth. Effective leaders don’t avoid that pressure. They have learned that dynamic tension is the engine of creation. Effective leaders, mature leaders, avoid compromise and aspire toward collaboration. They find ways to bring the parties to labor together, to work together, and help them add to each other rather than reduce each other.
The next time you feel the urge to compromise, stop. Struggle to find the clarity of what’s possible for you and the others, tap your courage to stay in the discomfort of the creation process, and work with the others not to arrive at a bland dilution of all your ideas, but to focus your energies on creating an outcome that lifts everyone to their highest and best self.