When Leaders Disappoint

How do you handle decisions that you know will disappoint some of your people? Don’t gravitate toward that awful cliché, “it’s business, not personal”, because often, it is personal. It’s personal when it affects someone’s career, compensation, or how others perceive them based on assignments (organizational prestige).

The key to managing disappointment in others is based in your own awareness. Be aware of the impact of your decisions on your employees. Anticipate their reactions. Use your reservoir of emotional intelligence to do damage control.

Years ago I was in a situation that required me to downsize half of my department. The decision was made by executive management and in spite of my best efforts to appeal, this decision was final.

I spend two intense weeks trying to reassign them elsewhere in the company. Against the odds, I succeeded. I was exhilarated by the fact that no one was losing a job. They weren’t the same jobs, but were real jobs with the same salary and benefits.

None of my efforts mattered. My employees were angry because in their minds they were getting axed from their jobs. They felt betrayed and discarded.

Of course, they had no idea about why and how the decision was made, what it took to reassign them, and my personal anguish in the process. Those things were irrelevant in this moment of colossal disappointment.

I was empathetic and patiently listened to their tirades about the organization….and about me. I was the face of the decision regardless of my role in it.

Yes, leaders can disappoint. One of the tough things about leadership is that you don’t always have control over what happens. Evaluate these situations thoughtfully and with integrity. Sometimes it’s the best and only you can do.

Have a great day!

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