Do What’s Right, Not What’s Popular
It’s human nature to want to be liked. But whenever that desire or need becomes a leadership motive, or the reason why you lead and make decisions in your organization, expect trouble. Effective leadership is all about doing the right things, not what’s popular. When facing tough times or hard decisions, Disciplined Leaders call upon courage to consistently make ethical choices. This may mean going against the status quo or losing “allies.” It may also mean sacrificing convenience or struggling emotionally, physically and mentally at times. Regardless of their pain, however, these leaders know when and how to draw the line. They refuse to back down against values of integrity and honor. And here’s a certainty: Every leader experiences times when that line must be drawn. In leading your organization, expect this challenge, knowing that doing what’s right may not pay off immediately. This integrity-based practice is a long-term investment that will benefit your impact and legacy over time.
It’s hard to predict the situations in which your leadership popularity will be tested. But here are some common scenarios that MAP consultants have coached their clients to face and effectively manage:
Cost-cutting measures. As the recent economic recession grew more and more real, company leaders from many industries made company cuts of all kinds. Think there were a lot of unpopular leaders? You bet. But that didn’t make them “bad” leaders. While some had likely contributed to the economic crisis, most of these company heads or managers were more or less victims of it. They had to deal with the fallout and make the best cost-cutting decisions given dire circumstances because waste of any kind was not an option. When or if economic pressures hit your organization, the choices you make may not make you the most popular person in your company culture. But remaining true to the interests of your team or the organization at large is what will ultimately ensure the health and vitality of the business.
Firing poor performers. Most people do not enjoy terminating employees. However, keeping on poor performers just because they are popular or because you want to be perceived as nice can undermine an organization’s potential, erode a company culture, and tarnish your leadership credibility. In particular, if you’ve done all you can do for these poor performers (e.g., develop, empower and provide opportunities for self-correction) but nothing changes, you’ll have to let them go. No doubt, this can be hard because you’re talking about people’s careers and livelihoods. But you can’t establish expectations for everyone and then not hold them all equally accountable. It’s simply not fair to those who play by the rules and consistently adhere to your expectations.
Standing up for your people. It can be tricky at times to walk the line between doing what’s best for your people and managing everyone else’s needs—clients, customers, stakeholders and even vendors. But as I discuss in MAP’s new book, “The Disciplined Leader,” your people are your number-one asset. Fail to stand up for and be true to them, and you’ll lose their respect and productivity will suffer. In one of the book’s chapters, I share a client story in which a particular leader purchased a major piece of equipment that cost $500,000 from a key manufacturer. Turned out, the equipment’s quality was poor, and it was the company’s employees who brought it to their leader’s attention. Now the leader could have turned a blind eye or told his people to simply deal with the equipment’s problems, but he didn’t. Instead, he worked with his MAP consultant to create a plan to challenge the manufacturer, then he flew halfway across the country to stand up for his people and to confront the vendor about the problem. With the plan in place, MAP’s client succeeded. This resolved the equipment issue but sent a critical message to his people: They mattered most. This leader knew when and learned how to draw the line—and did it in spite of the possible risk to his relationship with this valuable manufacturer.
When have you made a right (but unpopular) choice—something that worked out for you and your organization in the end?