Hank came to see me wearing his anxiety like a neon-colored sport jacket. He had just terminated an employee he considered a friend. And while Hank knew it was the best thing for his organization — and likely his friend, too — in the long run, it wasn’t an easy task.
The best leaders make the difficult decisions they know are best for their team, even when challenging. At Correct Craft, we call it “doing the hard things.”
The value of doing the hard things was reinforced for me recently when I was preparing for a marathon. I was struggling with training through the hot Florida summer when I read that the most successful athletes are willing to tolerate discomfort. To be a great athlete, you must be willing to work harder than anyone else, train when others are doing more fun things and push well beyond the point when your body wants to stop. Embracing the mindset of being willing to tolerate discomfort was a game-changer for me in my marathon training. Of course, it can be a game-changer for leaders too.
The best leaders are willing to skip the easy path and do the hard things. They know that while it may be more challenging in the short run, doing the hard things is best for them, their team and their organization in the long run.
Some of the hard things great leaders do include:
Necessary Endings — No matter how hard we try to make a relationship work, there are times when we need to go separate ways with an employee, vendor, distributor or someone else with whom we work. This is hard for someone like me who works very hard to make all relationships work, often well beyond the point of diminishing returns. I have sometimes taken too long to make an essential change. Waiting only hurts your team, you and usually even the person or organization who needs to be changed. Henry Cloud’s book Necessary Endings helped our leadership team at Correct Craft be more effective in this area.
Confront Problems — Leaders often find it much easier to ignore problems rather than deal with them. Dealing with problems is hard; it takes both a physical and emotional toll on leaders. In addition, many leaders worry about how people will react. However, avoiding problems allows cancer into your organization, eventually destroying it.
Be a Fighter Pilot — My leadership style is to mutually agree with our team on goals and then let them work toward achieving them. I don’t think anyone would accuse me of being a micromanager. However, there are times when a leader must step in, manage assertively, and make tough calls. Maybe the best example of this is during an economic or market downturn when the leader must protect the organization, which typically includes a lot of hard decisions.
Clarity — Over the years, I have written a lot about the importance of a leader providing their team clarity. But providing clarity is a difficult task. What is apparent in the leader’s head may not be clear in the listener’s head. When there is a communication problem, it is the leader’s fault; Every. Single. Time. It takes time, effort, and a lot of energy to create clarity for your team, but you must provide clarity on your mission, vision, why, strategic plan, and budget. It isn’t easy, but once you create clarity, you will be surprised by how well things get done.
Energize — It takes a lot of effort from a leader to provide their team energy. It is one of the hard things we must do, but necessary. Leaders set the tone for an organization and provide emotional fuel for their team to get things done. If a leader feels grumpy or angsty, it negatively impacts their team’s energy level. It may be difficult to stay energized — and sharing grumpiness or angst with your team may feel good — but your organization is paying a high price when you do.
Be a Learner — I wear a wristband that says, “Be a Learner.” Being a learner may seem easy, but it is not. It is hard because most of us are not wired for it; we are wired to be knowers. A knower views information through a paradigm that tries to validate what they already think. A learner seeks truth, and that’s hard. Good leaders try hard to see things from contrary perspectives and gather information from as many different viewpoints as possible. They also work hard to both create a learning culture at their organizations and set an excellent example for their team of being a learner. Creating a learning culture at your organization is challenging but may be the best investment you can make.
Avoid Emotional Hijacking — I have heard that emotion always trumps logic. It is often hard to hold back our feelings, especially if we frame them as passion. However, the best leaders work hard to ensure they make sound, logical decisions and are do not let emotion hijack them. Passion is good; emotional hijacking is not.
These are just a few examples of the hard things that leaders must do. When something feels difficult to a leader, it should signal that it is likely necessary and needs immediate attention.
When I promote someone to a president role at one of our companies, I always tell them they are unprepared. This usually results in a quizzical look from the person being promoted. I share that they aren’t prepared because it is way easier to second guess what a leader should do than it is to have the responsibility to make tough decisions. Knowing that your choices will impact both your organization’s and people’s lives, for better or worse, can be very stressful. However, if a leader is going to be successful, protect their organization, and look out for their team, they must do the hard things.
One of the most important differentiators between mediocre and excellent leaders is that the best leaders are willing to tolerate discomfort and do the hard things. So, don’t procrastinate; do them today.
Bill Yeargin is CEO of Correct Craft and the author of five books, including the best-seller Education of a CEO.