Is This a Hill You NEED to Die On?

You’re working on improvements in your organization. The goals and interim targets have been established by leadership.  And, as with most efforts to implement change, it seems the resistance to change is in full action.  You find yourself moving from battle to battle and it seems never ending. It’s exhausting. You may even find yourself at odds with team members and co-workers. There’s no escape, or so it seems. Then you arrive home only to find other battles to be fought! 


Sound familiar? 


One of the most game changing (and life changing) bits of advice in my career came from my Executive Director, Bob. During one of our one-on-one leadership coaching sessions, Bob advised me to focus on the important things. “But they’re ALL important,” was my reply.  He smiled.  “They may be important, but are they a hill you need to die on?”   


Bob continued, “In business, in life, there are all sorts of opportunities for you to engage in a battle.  You can wear yourself out and lose the ability to effect change because you’re fighting on so many fronts. BEFORE you engage in a battle, you need to ask yourselfIS THIS A HILL YOU NEED TO DIE ON?  If the answer is yes, then go to war with all the energy and tools at hand to ensure you win.  If it’s not, as tempting as it may be to take on, LET IT GO!  At some point it may, or may not, rise to the level of a battle you need to win. But until then, move on without engaging!” 


After Bob left, I remained in the conference room reflecting on what he had shared.  I left work and went home, mentally readying myself to deal with the relatively normal battles associated with having a teenage son committed to stretching his wings against parental authority. 


The next morning, still tired from the evening’s battle with my son, I prepared myself for those inevitable battles at work. As I sat in the parking lot staring at the entry to the plant, I resolved to at least try Bob’s advice.  That morning, with each roadblock presented in opposition to change, I’d silently ask myself, “Is this a hill I NEED to die on?”   


As I implemented this change in the way I approached challenges, I was amazed how less stressful the days became and how much more time (and energy) I had to fight the real battles.  Time passed, and an unintended consequence became evident.  With focus on the NEEDED battles, many of the minor ones simply disappeared or resolved themselves.  Opposition to change seemed to diminish. Progress toward targets and goals was consistent.  


During a contract assignment in Asia, I employed a variation of this tactic as I worked to create and strengthen Supply Chains at the various brownfield and greenfield sites.  While it is easy to give teams a lengthy list of all the things they need to fix, that can also be overwhelming and creates resistance to change.  So, my internal question became, “What hills do the team need to die on first?”  The answer became the priority improvements or changes to implement before my next visit. This focused approach helped these teams maintain steady progression toward their targets and minimize resistance to change in their organizations.  I taught this approach to my Asia support staff, one of whom recently told me he continues to use it in his current job. 


I’m sure some of you are asking….. so, what about your son? Did it help there? It did. Immensely. Focusing on only “die on” issues improved our relationship and his compliance.  As a further consequence of the change, he learned some valuable lessons by being allowed to accept and manage the fallout from those issues I didn’t need to “die on.” 


So, what about you? Are you fighting all the battles? Or just the ones you “need to die on”? 


There are times when it is difficult to determine which problems are critical, and which can wait, especially during crisis moments. Let the experienced team at HVMC support your organization to identify and focus on those critical battles! Email us at 



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