Kevin Fong - Organizational Design

  Losing Forward and the Art of Compromise

“Not left. Not right. Forward.” is the motto of No Labels, a new organization that was formed by a group of Democrats, Republicans and Independents who are “united in the belief that we do not have to give up our labels, merely put them aside to do what’s best for America.”  Critics claim that it’s a feel-good effort that will not hold ground.  Proponents claim to offer a forum that is based on the facts, not partisanship and propaganda.  Time will tell if this movement picks up any momentum to have an impact on the political process.  For now, I appreciate their intention to create some common ground for people to come together and practice the art of compromise.
This word has gotten a bad rap in recent times.  President Obama has been slammed by the left for “compromising” on the recent tax deal.  Incoming Speaker Boehner recently said of compromise – “I reject the word.”  Compromise is somehow seen as a sign of weakness.  And yet, anyone who has ever lived with another person knows that compromise is essential to maintain both order and harmony in the household. And if our leaders are vilified for or reject the act of compromise, how can they possibly achieve and maintain order and harmony?
I witnessed the art of compromise firsthand at a gathering of leaders to discuss the Older Americans Act, which is up for reauthorization in 2011.  The leaders represented the four major communities of color, along with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) seniors.  Currently, there is no explicit inclusion of LGBT seniors in the Older Americans Act, and while everyone in the room agreed to advocate for the inclusion of such language, there was concern about how to best move forward with the issue.  There were risks for the communities of color leaders, both from within their communities and in their relationships with policymakers, and those concerns led to a somewhat heated conversation.
One of the leaders of the LGBT community raised the concept of “losing forward.”  He acknowledged that while advocating for the inclusion of LGBT language in the Older Americans Act was likely a losing proposition, how could we use this as an opportunity?  The resulting discussion led to a clarification of vision and tactics and more importantly a deepening of trust, respect and mutual understanding among the group.  It was an example of how good leaders can utilize a potentially losing opportunity to move the process forward in a way that benefits everyone.
As a parent of two teenagers, I’m constantly telling my kids that they will not always get everything they want (especially during the holidays!).  The key is to master the art of compromise in a way that, despite real or perceived losses, serves both the individuals and the collective in a way that everyone can move forward in harmony. 


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