The “right” choice is often hard

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.

  1. Dale Eisenmann says:

    I have been thinking recently about Baruch’s quote: “Every man has a right to his opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.” I think this relates to Jay’s recent quote about choices and your axiom about the right choice being hard. It is often much easier to be careless about our facts and justify our opinions than to be sure our choices (no matter how hard they may be) are based on facts. Your 15 axioms (principles) are a wonderful assembly of “facts” we can build upon. Thank you!

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