There will be points throughout your career where you will be put in situations that truly test your personal value system.  Decisions will need to be made that are not nearly as clear-cut as you would like them to be.  People’s lives will be affected, including your own, and there won’t always be a “good” answer to the problem you’re dealing with.  Sometimes, there will be forces pulling at you from different directions, and the time you have to make these decisions is never enough.  If this hasn’t happened to you before, just wait; it happens to all of us as we progress throughout the ranks of leadership roles.

These are the situations that people always seem to have an opinion about, until they are the ones who have to make the decision themselves.  These are the types of decisions that will determine not just how far you’re willing to go to succeed, but how you view yourself for the rest of your life.  Leadership is not something you do, it is who you are, and the decisions you make in these situations will create friends and enemies of people you work with, including those who you work for.  You have to choose wisely, and your moral fiber will be tested in a way that has a lasting affect.

When these situations present themselves, the absolute worst thing you can do is let your emotions take control. You have got to think clearly, and letting your emotions dictate your decision will almost always lead to a bad long term decision.  Your emotions are important, and they will play a role in your decision (whether you admit to it or not), but they cannot be the primary factor in your conclusion.

Nobody knows what their true non-negotiable actions are until they are presented with a situation that tests them entirely.  These are the actions that you can never forgive, cardinal sins if you will, with “One Strike and You’re Out” consequences.  Everyone thinks they know how they would handle every situation when someone else is going through it, but everything changes when it’s happening to you.

If you haven’t really focused on how you will handle these decisions in the past, the process of coming to a decision will be even more arduous for you.  We all like to think that we know the difference between right and wrong without having to put much thought into it, but it isn’t always that simple.

There are no easy answers here, if the answer is easy, you aren’t dealing with the type of situation I’m discussing.  For me, the best way to prepare for these, albeit no magic bullet, is to mentally go through a situation like this in my head.  Also, when someone else is presented with a similar situation, I like to determine how I think I would handle it.  I can’t offer you a perfect answer to every situation, because these situations don’t always have a “right” and “wrong.” You can try to break the situation down to its core to see if the root cause is that simple, but there are typically way too many factors to gain the level of clarity you would like.

Some situations I’ve been or have seen others deal with are.

  • The decision to let someone go who hasn’t really done anything wrong, and has been loyal to you and the organization
  • The decision to pick between the lesser of two evils; such as hanging on to an employee who is stealing from the organization for a period of time, as losing them immediately would cost your more money in other areas than the person is taking
  • Terming an otherwise fantastic employee who made an inappropriate comment to someone, their first offense in years of service, where the other person has forgiven them
  • Making a decision that will cost people their jobs, but will better the long term outlook of the organization
  • Doing something you feel is wrong, knowing it will cost you your job if you don’t do it

There are many more situations that I could probably think of, and many that you have probably witnessed or took part in yourselves.  For those of you who haven’t had to do this,  I urge you to spend some time thinking about how you think you would handle it.  If you come to a decision within seconds, you’re probably not really putting yourself in the situation, or perhaps my examples are bad, create your own.

The way that you handle these situations will define who you are as a leader, and to an extent, a human being.


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