Archive for November, 2010

The “right” choice is often hard

Posted in Leadership on November 29th, 2010 by kjr – 1 Comment

Over the years I have also referred to this axiom as: “The right thing to do is often the harder choice you are confronted with”.

Leadership (and life too) is many, many times dealing with ambiguity. Some of the synonyms of ambiguity I think can describe our thoughts and feelings when confronted with difficult choices: vagueness, doubt, puzzle, uncertainty, obscurity, enigma, haziness.

The choices and paths seem as twisted and hard to follow as the branches in this sycamore tree I often bicycle past.

At some point in our career as managers or leaders, we are faced with a problem where the path to resolution is unclear, and the outcome at the beginning is unknown.

Sometimes we are confronted with choices in life- neither of which leave us totally comfortable and resolved.

Let me use examples to illustrate this.

Most of us at some point in our careers, if we manage or lead people, will be confronted with a difficult employee. This is almost always a good person- who is smart, and certainly at some point was considered capable. Yet, something changed. Either he or she allowed themselves to become stale in skills, or perhaps because of disappointments, became disillusioned and embittered.

What do you do? Too often I have seen where, after considerable effort has been spent on trying to turn the performance or attitude of such a person around, a manager is confronted with the choice to move them out, or move them on. -Meaning fire them, or transfer them to a different department.

The harder choice is the right choice. Taking the steps to remove someone from our employ is hard. We don’t want to have the conversation telling them they are out of a job. We don’t want to go through the process required by law and/or our HR department or union to ensure fairness and consistency.

We make excuses and build barriers to things –like our HR policies don’t ever make it possible to “let someone go”, -or we say, ‘Well this is just a bad match and I need to find a new role in a different department so they can start fresh.’

What ends up happening if we simply shuffle such a person? Here’s my suggested list:

  • The person continues, stuck in the rut of playing the victim and is denied the opportunity that the shock of being fired will give them;
  • The department receiving this employee finds out some months later they’ve inherited a problem, and if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of this you know you feel like you’ve been duped;
  • The peers of this person are relieved that they no longer need to deal with the lack of solid competency or poor attitude, yet, they know you didn’t have the fortitude (backbone) to “do the right thing”;
  • You have lost some respect of all of the people involved.

Yes, I agree, you didn’t have to go through all the bureaucratic processes, paperwork and meetings to show, and document, and file all the reasons and examples of why this person needed to leave your company. But as a leader you lost; you didn’t gain.

In my next post, I’ll write about a situation in life where, being confronted with ambiguity left someone needing to make a right choice that was hard.

More on ‘Don’t take yourself too seriously….’

Posted in Life on November 24th, 2010 by kjr – 4 Comments

. . .  and, Happy Thanksgiving.

Remember Axiom 13, Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously?

Well, it was a beautiful day here today, and I needed to go and pick up our Thanksgiving Day bird. ‘Thought since it was so nice, I would ride my bike.

Can you tell in the pictures below which one of us is the real turkey 🙂 ?

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving…..and remember-

“Don’t take yourself too seriously.”

Courage is the proactive response to fear.

Posted in Leadership on November 21st, 2010 by kjr – 2 Comments

If we accept that fear is not a choice, then courage is needed to face and overcome our fears.

Courage may be the fear associated with the threat of physical harm. Reacting to that fear and responding- like so many men and women in professions such as firefighting, search and rescue, police work, military service do- is to live this type of courage daily.

However, in discussions of leadership, we are talking about reacting when the fear is something different than fear of physical harm. It may be the fear of loss- perhaps the loss of position, or possession, or the favor of someone whose approval you desire.

The response needed to face these types of fear must come from something that is not reactive, something that has been cultivated and nourished within us; it our personal sense of right and wrong that surfaces when the situation is ambiguous and unpopular.

If we are in positions of responsibility, we will undoubtedly be faced with these types of choices. A superior asks you to simply skew a few numbers of a report. Someone intimidates you in a subtle way if you voice opposition to a decision even though within you, you know it is not the best or ethical choice for the company. You need to defend an unpopular employee because she is skillful, competent, and should be given an increase or promotion, and not have it withheld because she doesn’t fit some arbitrary measure unrelated to job performance.

Our internal thought response to these situations – mundane work life situations- will be guided by our sense of right or wrong. But our behavior – what we do, will be tested by our willingness to do what is right even if we loose face, favor, or position. That is where courage comes in during these times.

In these examples we could allow “situational ethics” to let us say nothing and rationalize that “it’s not my fault” or “my decision”. I would suggest that situational ethics don’t define courage or moral character. Rather it is behavior based on clearly understood values of what it is right and true, not analysis based on context.

In the book April 1865: The Month That Saved America, Jay Winik writes an account of two men who demonstrated this type of courage. One Sunday, shortly after the defeat of the South in the Civil War, a courageous black man walked into St. Paul Episcopal Church and sat down. When the time came to serve Communion, this man quietly rose and went to the front of the church and knelt down. It is reported that a silence hung in the air and I would imagine it was one of tension and potentially hate and frustration at defeat. I believe this black man’s name was never known, however, before anyone else reacted, another man stood up, walked to the front of the church and knelt down beside him and the rest of the church soon followed. The second man of courage that day was Robert E. Lee, recently defeated leader of the Confederate Army.

Either man could have found reason to not take those steps that day. The first could have easily said, ‘Not now, I will wait, go in a year, a black man has never been in that church before. What will they do to me? What will my own people think I am trying to do? Will I be killed, or shunned?’

Lee could have stayed in his seat and thought, ‘I’ve done my part, given enough already, let someone else handle this.’

Both demonstrated courage of character, belief, and lifted himself above the fear of the unknown and ambiguity of the moment.

Courage in leadership:

  • Is always action, not just words.
  • Is associated with adversity and hardship – for you, not “the other guy”.
  • Is not an act of calculation, but an act of conviction.
  • Knows success or acceptance isn’t guaranteed – even doing the right thing, may mean failure or sacrifice.