The Dark Side of Leadership
Everybody wants to lead. In American society, leadership is synonymous with power and influence. Most leadership authors frequently discuss ways to be a better leaders and the strategies always seem straightforward. Tactics identified usually speak to the higher nature of our personalities. “Be a positive example”; “Engage your employees”; “Happy employees make for happy customers”. However, there is a dearth of literature that looks at how difficult it is to be a manager or leader on an ordinary and daily basis. Below are 4 things that you need to be able to do in order to lead effectively that many leadership books do not talk about that may test not only your abilities, but also your ethical compass.
1) Keep secrets
Most leaders can attest that when you are in a position of authority you are privy to a lot of information. Some information is “classified”. It can be very awkward and difficult for some to be professional and cordial with others when you know things about their character. For example, you may be aware of employees who have a pending sexual harassment charge against them. As a manager, you also know who your poor performers are versus your superstars. You can’t slip up and leak certain information about employees or bad mouth them over a cocktail after work. You also can’t tell employees the company is planning to layoff folks until the predetermined time. But you and Jim started working there at the same time. Would you tell him? Can you keep a secret?
2) Tell the truth
I believe in the saying that the truth will set you free. You should always tell the truth even to your own detriment. If your company is going bankrupt, let your employees know. If Jim asks if he will be laid off, tell him. If you do not have the solution to a problem, that is okay. Do not pretend you have all the answers. And please do not make up answers like I have witnessed a few leaders do. That will lead to mistrust and it is very difficult to regain trust back.
3) Fire people
There is no space for employees who continually underperform. So, unfortunately you will have to terminate employees. I never understood how some people actually enjoy firing employees. I have found this to be one of the most difficult things about leading a team, unit, or organization. However, it must be done whether due to an employee’s poor performance or budget constraints. But how you do it makes all the difference because your employees are observing your behavior. Are terminated employees treated with dignity as a human being or are they dismissed with impunity as if their contributions never mattered? Regardless of how you approach the situation, the bottom line is that when you fire someone or lay them off you may be essentially destroying their life. Their family, health, and well-being depends on their livelihood from work income and you have the power to take that away. Whether they deserve it or not, it actually sucks when you understand the consequences of what may happen to someone you have to fire.
4) Be humble
As a manager, some of your colleagues will treat you differently. They may bring you a gift for your birthday. You may find a souvenir in your mailbox from a country your colleague visited. As a result, some managers develop a god-like complex. They begin to believe that everything they say or do is the gospel. They begin to dismiss the ideas of those around them or make unreasonable requests. Do not fall into that trap. My best advice is to always ask for the opinions of others even when you think you know the right answer. I have found that my ideas are never the best, or at least they can always be adjusted by the ideas of others. Like Thomas Jefferson has been quoted as saying, “The wise know too well their weakness to assume infallibility; and he who knows most knows best how little he knows.” And always give credit to someone else even if you think you deserve it (because you probably do not deserve it due to your power blinding you from reality). What is the worse that can happen if you give away the credit? Your employees will trust and appreciate you, and you still will get the credit anyway. That is because others will perceive you as being able to motivate strong and innovative performers.
So… do you still wanna lead?
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