The Hardest Part of Being a Leader That Is Rarely Discussed

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Being a leader is hard. That part is often discussed. But there’s one part of leadership that’s rarely discussed. And in my opinion it may be the hardest part of true leadership.

What am I alluding to?

Terminating people. Ending your employment relationship with them or terminating the contract in the case of an independent contractor. Picking and choosing who wins and losses. The reality is making final decisions on relationships is often one of the hardest parts of being a leader.

And I find it’s rarely discussed. Sure some business books gloss over the topic of hiring slow and firing fast. Other business books talk about getting rid of your bottom 10% or weak performers. But very few spend much time about the reality, meaning the human toll, of getting rid of weak players in business.

For many leaders this can be one of the hardest parts of leadership. How do we determine who stays and goes?

And when somebody goes, or needs to go, how do we deal with the reality? Getting from the logical decision to terminate them to the very real and human decision to have them no longer being part of our future.

Let’s dive into the very real and very difficult part of being a leader that’s rarely discussed.


1) Why Getting Rid of People is Hard

We are more and more to a world of human intelligence. Soft skills, understanding and human relations are so much more important than raw intelligence and facts in the current and future business world. It’s a recurring theme on the Future Done Right™ Show, where we focus on the future of business, that in most cases soft skills will be more valuable in the future than they are today.

As business leaders we’re often very good at soft skills. That’s often how we rose to leadership and how we deal with all the complexity of being a leader. We understood situations and people in such a way that we are able to get ahead. For many of us as we moved up through the ranks we had staff and others reported to us and we somehow kept all of the human and non-human elements of business in line. And we were successful in working with, and managing, them to allow us to continue to grow as leaders.

So we understand this human relations. Quite simply we are empathetic and we care about others. So it makes it hard to get rid of somebody. In the real world, terminating an employee or contractor usually means that our relationship with them is over. At the very least, it will be minimized. We won’t encounter each other nearly as often and the relationship will suffer.

So for many of us hard to get rid of people. First, because of our human connection with the person we need to terminate. And, secondly, because of some of the reasons we’re going to explore in this article.

Good leaders are empathetic. And termination plays on that empathy.


2) Leaders Often See the Potential

As leaders one of our core strengths is often seeing the future. It is said that good leaders can see the future clearly and show that to their teams. This can be very motivational. We can often see what can be developed from a starting situation. How our company can grow. How our teams can grow.

And in many cases we can see how our team members can grow. We can see raw skills which could be developed and improved which can allow that person to do amazing things in life and in business. And as leaders, and particularly as visionaries, we often envision that future where the person we need to terminate is doing amazing things.

And for many leaders that focus on the potential of the person ends up being a distraction. We end up focusing on that potential, and what can be developed, rather than what is happening.

So it’s critical that we move from seeing the potential to seeing the reality. That will make it much easier for us to follow through on a logical decision regarding a potential termination.


3) We Can Only Do So Much

Another struggle of leaders is it were often responsible for getting things done. Our management, shareholders or those that we answer to too often look to us to figure out how to get things done. It’s our job, as leaders, to find answers. And we usually are able to.

Whether it’s a quota for our sales team, getting a project done or finding a way to please a customer who is upset. We as leaders get things done.

If somebody on our team is not performing up to the level we would desire, we often want to figure out how to get it done despite this issues. And for many leaders that means figuring out a way. And for our struggling team members we can often see a way for them to get to success. If they would only change this or that or be open to coaching or criticize.

But the reality is that we as leaders can only do so much. Some people are simply unable to change or reform themselves into the person that they have the potential to be. And we are left with the very real reality that we can only do so much.


4) We Know the Human Cost

Because good leaders have emotional intelligence and are empathetic we know the real human cost of our actions. We know that that person that we terminate is probably going to have family struggles, business struggles and financial struggles from the loss of their income and position. We know that they may be set back and it may be difficult on them.

Furthermore we may know at some level that is not their fault. As leaders we often have to make decisions on good and bad. What’s in bounds and what’s out of bounds. We often know what works and what doesn’t work.

And sometimes we can know that somebody that we need to terminate is good, as a person, but bad in their role. And this can be very challenging.


5) We Internalize

Leaders also tend to internalize. Because we are empathetic we can see things from the perspective of the other person. We understand what they’ll be going through. We internalize these costs to ourselves.

Not only will the employee or contractor have turmoil and disruption that we anticipate, we have to feel it too.


So What Do We Do?

Letting people go and separating from them is perhaps one of the hardest parts of being a leader. It’s very rarely discussed in the business press. The truth is we need to figure out ways to deal with these very human issues.

It’s my belief if we can focus on why this is so hard we can work through the mental challenges of making the hard decisions we have to make.

By: The Our Shawn McBride who is constantly studying the Future of Business as the host of The Future Done Right(TM) Show. If you want regular content on the future of business subscribe to get new blog posts from us here.