Brenda Knights Narrative
We all have a nature to want to be liked. We’re human. Sometimes it’s easy to avoid those conversations because we don’t want that conflict. But if you make the decision to move into a leadership position, you are expected to carry out policies and you are going to have people dislike you for that. The folks that are happy with the work you’re doing are not going to be out there saying, “Wow, she’s a fantastic manager.” But there’s a silent majority who are coming to work, doing their job, who are watching your interactions. What message are you sending to them? Leaders are recognized long after they’re gone. It’s not in the moment. You’ll have days where you feel isolated and alone, and that’s where good mentors come in. But if your management style is to make everyone like you, that’s not going to go over well. But you’re there for the betterment of the business and ensuring it will survive, and sometimes that means making decisions employees aren’t going to like.
We carried over policies from the band office, and a lot of those were developed at a time when our band office was just a few families in the community, but it’s expanded. One of the policies was Christmas bonuses. Because we were just starting off our economic development, ethically I didn’t feel right collecting bonuses, because we’re part of the community. We’re here to give back to the community and be a part of the community. We’re here to serve the community, and that money should be to support education and health in our community. So, I made the unpopular decision to discontinue Christmas bonuses. And I knew that no matter what, people were going to be upset, but I also knew that if we were doing something that felt unethical, the truth would reveal itself at some point that that would affect us in the long run. I knew that at some point, I couldn’t face my community and say, “We are collecting Christmas bonuses, but we haven’t given anything back to our nation.”
Sure enough, today our community is having governance discussions, and members are looking very closely at everything. Five years ago, we had very upset employees. But as a leader, you have to think strategically and ethically and deliver an unpopular message. If we’d continued with the bonuses, it would be causing stress in our business group and we would be exposed in the community. So, it’s about thinking long-term and being clear and up-front and honest.