Not all decisions are black and white or offer only the choices of an A and B. Leaders are faced with such decisions daily and the deception that most of them are easy is dangerous. Don’t be fooled into believing that you or your boss can rifle through a complex problem with such simple options from which to choose. In many cases the options are win-lose or even lose-lose, no matter your intent and the following three situations are where the ability to make clear, easy decisions seems to be absent. This Monday Moment will make leading through tough decisions easier.
Whether the decision with which you’re faced involves three team members or three thousand employees, issues that impact people have multiple factors to be considered. One policy could influence attrition quickly, but is it in the long term going to serve the greater good? Will the policy have greater benefit for the company than detriment for the people? Could the policy statement be worded in such a way it creates the least negative impact on the greatest number of people? These questions and more are ones on which leadership teams spend hours crafting a message, writing a rule, or even in deciding simple things like do we take the vending machines out of the break room. Both in my work on the Leadership Advisory Board at Rollins College and as Treasurer of a national association, I have witnessed what appear to be small issues at first, turn into lengthy discussions when the realization hits that the people who will be impacted by the policy COME first. When faced with this type of decision, spend the time to test outcomes. Run the verbiage or message of the decision by a number of differing personalities and conflict tolerant individuals. Lead the effort to make the right decision even more so than you’re leading the effort to finalize the decision. People are complex. No human being is all black and white and making an all black and white decision that affects a great many people doesn’t, and shouldn’t happen, overnight.
From regulated decisions in an IPO to benefits packages for a small employee team of a family owned company, those decisions from which the leader has personal gain, tend to be less clear and create more strain. Perhaps you’re faced with a decision that would impact your child, who is also an employee, and you want what’s best for he or she. Perhaps you’re faced with a decision to provide employee training, but know you don’t want to give up two days of your own productive time to attend and show you’re invested and part of the team. No matter the type of personal impact your leadership decision may have, when your own preference can be had by whatever decision is made, it changes the rules of the game. Some leaders will focus on their core values, some will always err on the side of what is best for the team or conversely, their own family. Some will recuse themselves, if possible, or abstain from voting on the matter entirely. In all cases, transparency is key. Solicit the help of fellow leaders who may be able to raise your points on your behalf. Use weighted average models, pro and con diagrams, and even a sports oriented tournament style grid to keep all of your options in this type decision as objective as possible.
I’ve shared with many new managers and leaders that by the time you and the employee (or even a vendor) have gotten to the point of a termination conversation, if the appropriate steps have been followed, it is the employee’s choice to leave. That employee is choosing to disregard the recommended action items, adhere to the guidelines for compliance, or perform at the level for which you’ve asked. No matter the employee’s choice, terminating someone’s employment is rarely easy for any leader. The facts may be all there in black and white, documented on a ream of paperwork, and clear to everyone including the team member. The facts aren’t what make employee termination decisions difficult. The people do. Most leaders will admit to being nervous, anxious, concerned, empathetic, sad, or even mad about having to make such a choice as few enjoy or relish the opportunity to share bad news. The transaction isn’t personal, but the decision involved your own blood, sweat and tears. Human Resources may tell you to be all business, but what if you’ve worked this person for years? When faced with the difficult decision of employee termination, successful leaders weigh these factors before making that final decision:
- Might the employee be miserable and not courageous enough to quit on their own?
- Is he or she in the wrong role for their own natural gifts, skills, and talents?
- Is the employee driving away many more other good employees and costing your more damage than good?
- Are there any mitigating relevant factors that should be considered first, second, or third?
- Is there another role in which this employee might perform well? (i.e. not just somewhere else we could stick them so the difficult role of leading through termination disappears!)
When leaders make decisions, as the old EF Hutton commercial goes, people listen. More importantly, few will ever know the sleepless nights and tummy troubles of a leader faced with a complex decision. Part of being a good leader is making it look easy, but part of being an incredibly effective, well respected and dare I say truly Contagious leader is being transparent about reality and the difficulty with which hard decisions often must be made.
Monica Wofford, CSP is a leadership development specialist who coaches, consults with, and speaks to leaders of all levels, building their skills, emotional intelligence and authenticity. Author of Contagious Leadership and Make Difficult People Disappear, Monica may be reached at www.ContagiousCompanies.com, www.MonicaWofford.com or by calling 1-866-382-0121.