As a leader, tough calls come with our territory.
Of course, important decisions are a natural part of life. But the higher up the leadership ladder one climbs, the higher the stakes of those decisions get, too.
When leaders are faced with difficult and weighty choices, they show the world whether or not their words align with their actions.
When I was a young leader, I cared very much about how liked I was. I wanted everyone to be pleased with me. I had been promoted as a team I was already part of, so I knew them quite well – what they struggled with, what they needed. I made it a priority that everyone was happy.
Then, one of my team members made a mistake.
And it was a costly mistake, too. He damaged one of the test cars our team was working on, and I had to give him an official warning.
He felt betrayed. He felt I was his friend, and he wondered how I could chide him after all we had been through together.
From his perspective, the company had failed him – given him suboptimal equipment to work with that made this mistake much easier to make. He felt he deserved mercy.
From the perspective of my boss, however, this team member had cost us time, production, and of course, money, and he wanted this team member gone. Not just warned, not even just punished – he wanted him fired.
I had a choice to make. It was my team member’s mistake, and I had to validate my boss’s concerns. But, my team member also had a point – the company had not properly equipped him to do his job.
What was I to do?
After some thought and discussion with my mentor, I was able to negotiate with my boss to let my team member keep his job, if I gave him a formal warning for the mistake. Neither of them was entirely pleased, but my team member kept his job, and my superior was satisfied.
This was one of those defining moments in my leadership career. It was one of the first difficult choices I had to make, and I walked away with three big insights on tough calls:
1. A tough call brings with it an inward battle.
What do I believe? What do I think is right? These are hard questions on any given day, let alone a day when they affect your life, and potentially, someone else’s.
I had two perspectives vying for my validation. I had to ask myself, “What do I think is fair?” And I had to not just be sure of it, but I had to also be able to defend it – I had to be comfortable putting my name on my stance.
2. The tough call demands risk.
A decision is not difficult if there is nothing at all at stake. A tough call is a tough call because of the inherent risk involved.
My boss was quite fixed on the issue – he wanted my team member gone, no questions asked. Well, I was going in to ask questions. That could have hurt our rapport – or worse, I could have gotten myself fired.
But it was a risk I had to take to make sure I adhering to what I felt was fair.
3. A tough call distinguishes you as a leader.
This decision I made sticks with me because it was difficult, but in spite of that, I felt I made the right choice on both accounts.
Decisions reveal values, and values make a person who they are – and you are a leader because of who you are, not what you do.
John Maxwell writes at length about tough calls in Leadership Gold, chapter 15. As you prepare for your week, consider these application prompts adapted from that chapter and assess how you handle your hard choices.
1. Do you have a history of tough calls you’re proud of?
Make a list of the difficult situations you’ve had to navigate as a leader and how they turned out. Are you in the habit of sticking to your values in these crucial moments?
2. How have you prepared to make the hard decisions?
I am reminded of John Wooden’s wise words:
“When opportunity comes, it’s too late to prepare.”
We rarely get much advance notice when difficult choices are brought to our doorstep.
What are you practicing daily – mentally, physically, etc. – to prepare for tomorrow’s tests of leadership?
3. Are you willing to take the risk?
Look at your list of challenging leadership moments – how many are there? If there are not many, you may be playing it too safe as a leader. Do you take the risks necessary in the tough calls?
That’s all for now.
Until next time,
PS: Did you know about our brand new Leadership for the Now LinkedIn Live Guest show?
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Join us on the next episode on Wednesday, December 8th at 5 PM CET when I interview, Jonas Karles, Co-Founder and COO at one of the most successful fin-tech companies in the Nordics, Minna Technologies.
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