The times in which we live are calling us to use all of our leadership skills and step into each challenge with the full array of our leadership tools. I want to talk to you about one particular skill we’ll have to sharpen if we are going to lead and make a difference in our day.

Nearly all of us would prefer that the world would only hand us choices between complete opposites. Good or evil. Forward or backward. East or West. It would be so much easier. Yet life isn’t made this way. Our times aren’t either.

Instead, we find ourselves having to distinguish between shades of gray, between options that are intertwined with each other. For example, you may have to distinguish between peaceful protests of a social wrong and the violent forces that exploit them. Sound familiar? You may find yourself agreeing with a single policy of a president whom you don’t like otherwise. You may want to position yourself and your company on the moral side of a situation or a cause that has a lot of immorality woven through it. I’m sure you can think of examples from your own experience.

So how do we lead in such situations? How do we distinguish the right path for ourselves and for all we lead? Let me list some suggestions briefly.

  1. Decide your first principles first. What do you believe? Why do you believe it? What conclusions does this lead you to now? This is not just a PR exercise. It is how you track the “truth trail” for every decision you have to make. What do I believe and what stand does this require?
  2. Craft your language. Many an exec has gotten before a crowd in time of crisis and stumbled around because there was no crafting of language first. Take your time. Work with your team. How can what you believe and the decision that results best be expressed? This will actually help you define more clearly your position on the issue before you.
  3. Arrive at a slogan. In crafting your language, arrive finally at a pithy statement that people can carry with them after you’ve explained your thinking. A faith-based company I advise arrived at this about our current upheavals: Righteousness, not riots. This CEO is outspoken for justice and reform (righteousness) but he decries rioting. You can’t believe how people are repeating this phrase in his southern, largely religious context. He’s winning the battle for good because he took special care with language.
  4. Narrate, Narrate. Narrate. Explain, in brief, the situation, the first principles that led to your position, and what you are going to do now. Bring people into your thinking. Make it a story. Close strong with a rallying around your slogan.
  5. Nothing will illustrate your delicate, much-deliberated-over choice like action. In our current crisis, you stand with the protests, perhaps. You give employees time off to join them. You conduct a forum among your employees. You fund meaningful reform efforts. You put yourself on the line. You also take a strong stand against excess. People see. They understand. They join you. You’ve carefully distinguished in the decision-making process and then you act. You’re leading. You’re showing the way.
  6. Publish your position. If where you stand and what action you are taking can only be known by asking someone who was at your last company talk, you’ve failed. Once you’ve nailed down position and language, get it out there. There should be a brief video on your site and repeatedly posted on all your social media. A short position statement should be everywhere. I shouldn’t have to hunt for it. Make it frontline. Make it bold. Hire a publicist if necessary. Make your values and stand part of the branding of your firm, the positioning for victories to come.