“The challenge of Leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind but not weak; be bold but not a bully; be thoughtful but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.” Jim Rohn
Being the boss is not a job for everyone. Like you, I have met leaders who do not understand how to lead or what to do to be successful. Their lack of knowledge affects everyone around them. Management is one of few professions which requires no formal training nor demonstrated capability. It is hard to showcase your expertise when you spend your time cleaning up after your boss.
There are times when mental toughness and ruthlessness are required. Compassion is the third component that defines a leader who can make the tough calls. Those three components (along with competence) ensure that complex decisions are made and executed in a way that will enable the leader to sleep at night.
I was one of four Manufacturing Vice Presidents for a mid-size company that had invested in North America, China, and Mexico. We reported directly to the President.
My responsibility was two plants in the US and two plants in another country. The facilities in Mexico, run by one of my counterparts, did not deliver on their profitability, changing the dynamic of the profit balance across the organization. The failure of those plants placed the strategic plan in danger.
Every division had to produce more profit in the coming year. All of us made tough decisions.
My team and I developed a list of options. All were bad. I picked out a solution. All we had to do was close a well-performing plant and move the work to another less expensive country. One of my non-American plants was the lucky winner.
Could you fly half away around the world to close a plant with five hundred people to maintain the requested profitability? Could you make that decision then implement it?
I flew for hours to shut down a plant that was meeting expectations. Five hundred people were working or associated with the plant and its sub-suppliers. How do you tell good people goodbye: your work ethic is great, your quality is superb, the customers love the product, but you are losing your job in the next year because a plant in Mexico is failing? You don’t.
No matter what you say, they hear, “The plant is being shut down because we can build this product in Korea for twenty percent less than what we are paying here. Oh, yeah… I need you to train the team that will inherit your jobs.” You appear to be a heartless bastard. Tough, too bad for you.
Could you take the heat from the employees in an all-hands meeting then listen carefully to their concerns? It was your decision to crush the life out of the plant and the people in it.
“A leader has the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” — Douglas MacArthur
Why did you shut it down? Because you are the executive in charge and your job is to meet the company objectives. That is why you make the big bucks.
Stand in front of the employees and take the pressure. Use the compassion portion of your personality to ensure that the people in the plant are treated with respect when they leave. Use the power of your position to get your plant the best severance package the company can provide.
Fly over yourself to make the announcement and absorb the negative hits that go taking away people’s jobs. The plant closure is as personal as a relationship breakup. You cannot send someone in your place. That is equivalent to ending an intense, passionate relationship with a text message. You are the boss who decided. Stand and deliver.
Sometimes the emphasis is not technical; it is personal. Could you fire a man with nine kids to ensure that everyone on your new team understood that you were in charge? Would you?
I was the new Director. The prior Director was killed in a car accident. The team hadn’t had a leader for a year. A team without leadership reverts to every person for themselves.
In particular, the facilities manager had been doing whatever he wanted. The company had not taken him to task for his behavior.
The facilities manager was running a project I believed inappropriate. When I calculated the numbers, the return on investment (ROI) and the payback did not match the company guidelines. I asked him to bring the information regarding the project for us to discuss. He came to my office. We reviewed the project data and objectives for ninety minutes. At the end of the discussion, I was not convinced. I told him to shut the project down.
He told me he would.
The next time I walked around the plant, I found that project still running. I asked the facility manager to shut the task down a second time. Once again, he told me he would.
When I went out to the factory two days later, that project was still running. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. When we had the same conversation a third time, I was not a happy boss.
“Listen,” I said, “I will not ask you again. You will turn that project off, or you won’t oversee it anymore.”
He stood up and walked over to my desk. He took off his badge and arrogantly whipped it across my desk. It slid to a stop in front of me.
“If you are willing to take over my project, you don’t need me. I’m going to walk out the door,” he said.
It was a cool and decisive move. I suspected the facility manager had pulled that stunt ever since the former Director died, forcing management to back down and let him do what he wanted. Unfortunately for him, I wasn’t THAT management. za
I sat up straighter in my chair. I slowly reached across the desk, picked his badge up, and put it in my pocket.
“Pick your stuff up at your office, go to HR to let them know you have quit,” I said.
His eyes got suddenly wide. “Wait, a minute; what are you saying?”
“You tossed your badge on my desk. Paraphrasing your statement, you said, ‘If I can’t have it my way, I don’t want to be here.’ Well, you can’t have your way. So, goodbye,” I replied.
“Well, maybe — ” he started to say.
I cut in. “There’s no ‘well maybe’ in this. You chucked your badge at me. Don’t you have nine children? It looks like you’ll be telling your wife, ‘Hey honey, me and you and these nine kids aren’t going be living indoors much longer because I decided that I wanted to act like an arrogant ass with my boss. Guess what? My boss followed my lead and behaved like an arrogant ass with me.”
He stood in silence, staring at me.
“Go home,” I said.
He left, but he did not stop in HR on his way out. He took only his coat with him.
I notified security he was no longer allowed in the building. I did not tell them why. When he came to work the next morning, he couldn’t enter. He worked from the lobby, and anyone who wanted to see him had to meet him there. He found this humiliating since I had notified no one I had fired him.
His wife called the next day and asked me to return his badge. She would guarantee that he would be my staunchest supporter. This is where compassion kicked in. I let him return to work.
During our welcome back to work conversation, I told him not to let his alligator mouth write checks his hummingbird ass could not cash. I let him return to work.
Work is not a hand of poker. It doesn’t matter if you have a full house and your boss has a random collection of unmatched cards. The boss always wins.
Could you have fired the man with nine children for challenging your authority? Would you have closed the plant to meet the strategic objective? Do you have what it takes to make the tough decisions and execute them with integrity?
Don’t pretend like you will execute something that you know you can’t. Don’t lie to yourself.
It takes a person with mental toughness to make courageous decisions day after day and not be affected by them. Either you have what it takes to lead an organization, or you don’t.
“He who would accomplish little must sacrifice little; he who would achieve much must sacrifice much; he who would attain highly must sacrifice greatly.”–James Allen
If you can competently perform your job and have ruthlessness, mental toughness, and compassion, you are one of the lucky few. Make your move. You are needed in Corporate America right now. American management needs you!
Another Leadership read: Set Your Team Communications on Fire
I can be reached at https://www.tonicrowewriter.com/