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Nov 8, 2023

Ends do (usually) justify means

Do ends justify means? When some argue that ends do not justify means, they typically imply that there are certain situations where the means—potentially extreme or damaging—do not warrant the pursuit of an end. Generally, though, the means are meant to be subordinate to the ends; the latter are the driving force behind our actions and decisions. That is the whole point of the distinction between ends and means. 

In the context of educational leadership, the mission is clear: student success and institutional success. Collegiality and a supportive work environment are crucial, of course. They foster a positive atmosphere conducive to both productivity and satisfaction. Nevertheless, there comes a point when these relationships can impede progress. I have experienced this firsthand. Recently, my actions, while necessary to move a solution forward, strained a previously good relationship with a colleague. I did not relish the decision, nor did I make it lightly, but it was a last resort to maintain momentum toward our ultimate goal.

This is not an isolated incident. Over the years, I have faced such decisions more than once. They are never easy. They are the kind of decisions that linger in the mind, inviting you to question whether there was another way. Yet, they are a stark reminder that an overcommitment to conflict avoidance can be just as detrimental as the tendency to engage in multiple needless confrontations. Both extremes are pitfalls of leadership. A good conflict can clear the air and clarify things.

Navigating these waters requires an intuitive understanding when to stand firm, and when to smooth things over. The art of leadership is not in avoiding conflict at all costs but in discerning when the mission's needs must override the comfort of existing relationships. It's about striking a balance between moving forward and maintaining alliances, knowing full well that sometimes progress demands tough choices.

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