Leaders Defend the Village

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During my college years, and for a few years after, I had the pleasure of playing rugby. I fell in love with the sport – the dynamism of the game, the strategy, the physicality, and the way we learned to rely on each other as teammates.

Our coach Franck, now living in Fiji, was born in France. And every once in a while he would say something funny, or out of context. We loved to laugh at what we called Franckisms.

Hours before our collegiate quarter-final game, Franck gathered us around. “You need to defend the village!” he implored us. Immediately one of the women on our team got up and started drawing a bloody battle scene on the white board. We erupted into giggles. The analogy may have worked for the men’s team in the past, but it landed flat with us.

Yet the more I delve into the world of organizational leadership, I realize that Franck was spot on in his advice.

To advance our vision as leaders, we’ve got to spent time defending the Village.

“Leadership is 50% Building and Vision Setting, and 50% Protecting and Defending against all of the other things people want it to be”

– Dr. Henry Cloud – Boundaries for Leaders

The truth is that in order to build, we need to protect our team’s and our own energy and time from the things that don’t fit into our shared vision. Good things, yes. Worthy things, often. But in order to accomplish the audacious, sometimes ridiculous, and always big goals for ourselves and our team we need to focus only on the best things. Not the good, nor the worthy things. Only on our best yes that leads to accomplishing our vision.

Building things – visioning – those are the fun things as a leader. But defending? Honestly, it’s exhausting. First I have to discern if this thing – an ask from someone else, or (gulp) something or some project I’ve initiated myself – is part of the bigger goal or vision.

Then there’s the people-pleasing side of me that wants to say yes, that knows my team or myself has the skills and capacity to not only do the thing – but do the thing well, perhaps better than anyone else available. Defending the village takes a lot of nos. Perhaps a barrage of nos would describe it better. Those nos take an extreme amount of commitment and energy.

This lesson of defending the village became clear when working with an organizational leader recently on a project. Everyone loved what she had built – both the collaboration network and the technology behind it. In fact, they loved it so much she fielded dozens of requests from agencies around the state, asking her to demo what she had built (after a while, she started staying no to most of those – realizing that it was taking away time from her core goals).

And then, a big ask. An ask from one of her funding partners to bring more of their employees in to participate in the network – only they weren’t going to use the network for its broader goal and vision (increasing the number and quality of work-based learning opportunities) they needed an efficient way to manage relationships. Is this ask supportive of the vision, or is a distraction to protect and defend against?

I still don’t know if someone telling me to defend the village will inspire me to play harder, or tackle stronger. But I do know that as leaders we can create teams that can work together to accomplish remarkable things – but only if we give them, and ourselves, the space to do it. Defending the village means protecting our vision against all the other things people want it to be.

Want more hands-on practice with vision setting to help defend against the good asks? Try the Organizational Alignment trail on Trailhead as part of the Manage the Salesforce Way badge.

Megan Himan has over fifteen years experience in the nonprofit sector and over ten years working on the Salesforce platform. She has a unique combination of deep technical skills paired with an ability to strategically convene groups, coach executives and leadership through transitions, and execute on project deliverables. She is Founder & Principal of BrightStep Partners - solutions with strategy for Salesforce success. In September 2017, she was named a Salesforce MVP.

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Posted in Leadership, Planning, Strategy, women in tech
2 comments on “Leaders Defend the Village
  1. Probably my least favorite blog you’ve written.

    Probably because I want to be able to do everything and dream big dreams and move everyone to great actions and not have to deny myself or anyone else any of that.

    Saying no is not something I like to do…even when you are exactly right! as always. 🙂


    • Megan Himan says:

      Seriously! This blog is mostly a missive to myself, as they all are. I ran across a notebook from a year ago, where I had written down my goal for the year. And it was the same damn one I wrote this year, only weeks ago. So if I want to actually do the thing, somethings gotta change. Still digesting this, because all the other things are good too.


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