I had a tricky work situation recently, and I was very pleased with the way I handled it.
An RFP was put out recently for a non-competitive grant for our regional network of centers. The grant was applied for by the Chair of our regional network. This Chair has a history of grabbing power (which is why she is the chair) and is downright despised by the chair of MY board, my pain of a boss (because he wants all that power for himself.) She doesn’t take any questioning or criticism well.
The grant application was approved, and our region got the money. When I reported this to my board, and shared with them the highlights of the proposal, three members of the board who are executives in a related organization were very unhappy with the biggest expenditure in the grant proposal, which they clearly saw as a threat to their organization. They said that it was a duplication of services for what they delivered. My board Chair/ boss, happy to appease them and happy to get in a dig at the regional Chair, instructed me to post our board’s concerns about this expenditure in a semi-public forum that we use for regional communications.
I knew that this would greatly upset the regional Chair. I think it would upset anyone, even if they were a fantastic leader good at hearing dissension, to have a critical post on a message board made about something they worked very hard on. So I knew I had to handle this with care. I asked my chair/boss if it might be better for the message to come from him, but of course he said no, he wanted me to post it, since it was a message from my Board. I told him I thought it should be an email instead of a post on the semi-public forum, but he wanted it on the semi-public forum so the regional Chair could not say she didn’t know the similar organization that my board members represent felt that way.
So I thought very long and hard about what I thought was fair, moral, and professional to do in this situation. I didn’t feel that it warranted outright refusal, because he wasn’t asking me to do anything immoral, just something that wasn’t the nicest thing in the world. I figured that I could write the post in a very politic way that was as kind as possible, and that would minimize the problem. And finally, I decided that the most professional, fair way I could do this would be to give the regional Chair a heads up with a phone call explaining what I was going to do before I posted it.
The regional Chair was very, very upset when I called her, and she protested vigorously against me making the post, but I explained my reasoning and thought process above, and that while I wish I didn’t have to upset her, and would personally not wish to put this on the public forum, I wasn’t going to refuse to do so.
I then wrote a post praising the parts of the grant that my board members weren’t complaining about, and mentioned that we knew how much hard work was done on this grant application, but given that it is easier to comment than to criticize, my board had some concerns about the largest expenditure.
To my surprise and delight, I got an email from the regional Chair later that day, thanking me for my carefully phrased post, stating that she knew the impossible situation that I was in, and that she appreciated my professionalism in calling her ahead of time. I was definitely not expecting that, and it not only made me feel good that I had clearly handled the situation well, it made me appreciate her more as a person and as a leader, too.
This definitely was working with creativity and dignity!