One of the challenges of leadership is the need to make hard decisions . . . decisions that are not “people neutral.” Decisions that are good for some people and are at least perceived as being not so good for other people. Decisions that further the overall goals of the organization, but that have a cost to one or more parts of it. Decisions you wrestle with . . . that knot your gut and yet still have to be made. In such cases, members of my leadership team and I remind each other to “make the hard decisions, and then be kinder than you have to be in carrying them out.”
A good leader cares about his or her people. They are not just someone filling a position in an org chart, but rather a living, breathing human . . . with families and hobbies and goals and dreams. And sometimes, a leader has to make a decision that is going to impact all of that in a person’s life. So what does it look like to be “kinder than you need to be” in such situations?
Perhaps there is a committed employee who has been promoted, and it becomes obvious that they are not going to succeed in that role. Do you continue to encourage and guide them, even while you are confident that the role is just not a fit? Do you allow them to stay in the role until they “fail”? Or, is it kinder to find another role in the organization where their gifts and graces are a better match — even if it involves a lower “rank” and salary — where they can ultimately be successful? It may be hard at the time, but more than once I have had an employee ultimately thank me for seeing that a different role was a better fit.
You may have a longtime staff member with whom you need to part company. Having made the decision, however, put yourself in their shoes. Would extending a particular benefit longer than best practice would dictate, or making other unique allowances, make the situation easier for them? Are there other ways you can be kinder than you need to be in the situation? This consideration is less about whether someone “deserves” it and more about the kind of behavior you want to model in your organization.
If you have to make a decision to cut back in one part of the organization so another part can flourish, are you willing to sit down with those impacted and listen to their anger, their fear, their frustration, and acknowledge the pain of the situation? Sure doing so may feel awful. Are you willing to sit in that pain with them to allow them to be seen and heard?
Being kinder than you need to be doesn’t really make hard decisions easier, but it does speak volumes about you as a leader . . . and that type of kindness is contagious. Make the hard decisions, and then be kinder than you need to be in carrying them out.