Every day each person makes a number of decisions. Some of these decisions are easy and don’t usually have life changing consequences, like if I am going to have another cup of coffee or should I wear the blue tie with stripes or the green one with dots. But, then there are the other decisions that need to be made, the ones where someone is going to be impacted, or someone won’t be happy.
As our society has changed, expectations have changed and handling situations where someone is not going to be “happy” has also changed. These changes have complicated how leaders make the tough decisions as well as communicating these decisions. So, how do you handle these types of situations? How can we help those around us understand the rationale behind the decisions, without the baggage of a potentially socially charged situation?
First – Make the decision
When situations get tough or difficult, it is natural to want to avoid the “messiness.” There is a tendency to put off the decision that Scarlett O’Hara moment where we say “I’ll deal with that tomorrow.” Or, we want to wait and see if the situation takes care of itself. While sometimes this is good, as it allows you to move from a potential “gut reaction” or allows some of the unknowns to become clearer. The usual result is that the “messiness” just gets worse and worse and the implications of not making the necessary decision compounds. The key is to make a decision, and then handle the consequences.
Second – Understanding that what is right is not always easy
Giving feedback to someone that they don’t want to hear, “you aren’t performing up to expectations” or “you can’t continue to provide a poor work product” or “you aren’t qualified for this task,” is never easy. Leaders need to set expectations. Leaders need to prepare individuals for the tasks that are to come or situations that they will face in the future. Life comes with disappointments. Life is full of failure (remember a good batter in baseball is only successful about one-third of the time).
Our society has changed. People are expecting to not have to work as hard for their goals. They are expecting to be catered to in a number of different ways. There is a sense well that doesn’t apply to me, because …….. (fill in the blank). In this sense, leaders need to understand that they need to stand up for what is right: meeting the expectations, applying the rules fairly and consistently, and doing the job. The consequences of not holding to these standards are far reaching and ultimately become a death spiral. A leader can’t make a decision or not take an action just because it resolves a particular situation today, they have to be aware of the long-term consequences.
Third – Understand it isn’t personal
One of the leadership skills that we all need is dealing with conflict. If you go to a course on how to provide feedback, or how to deal with conflict; one of the skills that are taught is how to handle an argument by not making it about the person, but about the action or your perception of the action. For example, you have a team member that is not performing or providing the necessary work product on time. Rather than saying that the person is lazy, or can’t be counted upon; you should point out that the due date was not met and here are the consequences of those actions. It is not about the person; it is about the actions and the results.
As leaders we have to understand that when we are taking the “hard line” on a decision, i.e. not relaxing a deadline or a standard; it is not because we don’t like the person; it is because we have to do this in order to what is right for everyone. We also have to remind ourselves that the subsequent reactions of the individual are not really at us, but at the situation and ultimately at themselves because they did not meet their own expectations.
As true leaders, we will face these situations. We will get negative feedback. We have to continually assess ourselves to understand whether or not what we are doing is “right.” But, the one thing that we must do: is make the decision, and handle the consequences in a tactful and considerate manner. The key is not to let the situation fester; thus destroying the organization, those involved, and ultimately yourself.