Blog August 2017
“Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.” General Colin Powell during a briefing to the Outreach to America Program where he provided lessons in Leadership. I would like to focus on the lesson above and add my “spin” or additional insights. It is interesting to note that this was Colin Powell’s number one lesson.
General Powell continued to explain, “Good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group, which means that some people will get angry at your actions and decisions. It’s inevitable – if your honorable. Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity. You’ll avoid the tough decisions, you’ll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted, and you’ll avoid offering differential rewards based on differential performance because some people might get upset. Ironically, by procrastinating on the difficult choices, by trying not to get anyone mad, and by treating everyone equally “nicely” regardless of their contributions, you’ll simply ensure that the only people you’ll wind up angering are the most creative and productive people in the organization.”
Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the UK, said it simply, “I do not seek unpopularity as a badge of honor, but sometimes it is the price of leadership and the cost of conviction.”
Leadership is about making the tough calls and doing the right thing. Doing that means not everyone will be happy with you. Tough calls usually involve people in some fashion. Sometimes tough calls include reprimanding, firing or downsizing. That certainly won’t make everyone happy. But if it is a principled decision, it will become obvious that it is also the right decision. Perhaps personnel issues have been allowed to go on too long and it is bringing the entire team down. If not addressed, high-performing individuals will begin to leave and morale will suffer. Perhaps it is the right decision because the organization has gotten too fat and has too many layers of management and the company is not making a profit. Perhaps making the tough call now means some others will still have a job later. Perhaps it is stepping in and taking charge of a project that is not doing well to try to get back on track, but someone might feel deflated or that you don’t trust them. Perhaps you’ve noticed unethical practices and must intervene. The list goes on and on. None of them are easy or clear cut on how to handle, but certainly we will agree doing nothing is not an option. One of the toughest parts of leadership is making these types of agonizing decisions, upsetting people, and then bringing it all back together again so the team is strong and healthy and working together with unity.