Leadership excellence requires that you help your subordinates grow as contributors to the overall goals of your organization. One of your functions as a positive leader is to inspire those you lead by serving as a worthy role model and by constantly reinforcing virtues, teamwork, competence and a focus on results. The majority of people you lead will meld into an effective team driven by a positive culture where everyone can thrive. However, what if you just can’t reach an individual?
You should not take it as a personal failure if you can’t convince everyone to adopt your positive team outlook. There will be times when you encounter someone who just will not play ball or will insist on playing by his own set of rules. Sometimes teaching others a tough lesson is the best thing you can do for them, your organization, and yourself. Leadership often requires us to make some very tough decisions in support of a higher ideal and the greatest good for the greatest number.
From the perspective of tough decisions in support of the greater good, no situation stands out more as an example of justice and fairness than dismissing a non-performer. Think about how top performers feel when someone is not carrying his or her own weight. When someone fails to deliver results that justify his or her employment, the negative impact on morale is severely detrimental to a team. Once counseling has been exhausted, dismissing the non-performer is the best solution.
Business downturns and competitive pressures can lead to more tough leadership decisions when a company must lay-off workers. The image portrayed in the media is often one of evil management cutting jobs for the sake of profit. In contrast, the lay-offs I’ve seen up close have been torturous affairs for management. A lay-off casts a sense of personal failure over most corporate leaders. They can be overwhelmed by stress in addition to feeling defeated by having to fire employees. Any corporate leader who is unfeeling or callous about a mass lay-off will eventually have to pay for his poor leadership. Most leaders are sympathetic and deeply affected by having to lay-off employees.
Whether you have to dismiss a non-performer or let people go during tough times, one thing is key – make sure you help the departing employees preserve their dignity. Be honest and straight-forward and they’ll respect you for your decency even thought they may be unhappy with your decision.
Unlike wine, tough decisions don’t get better with time. Do not pass the buck and do not procrastinate or usually even more people will suffer. Make the tough decisions quickly and resolutely. That is your highest responsibility in leadership. Be sure to take the time to explain your unpleasant decisions in compassionate and heartfelt terms. People will respect your decisiveness and candor.