Making the Tough Call Hurts Sometimes
Leadership has its benefits; depending on the circumstance, it can come with a higher salary, power, perks, and most importantly, it's an opportunity to impact the lives of employees (positively OR negatively, depending on the type of leader you are).
Over the course of my career in leadership, I have had to make tons of tough decisions; termination, budget cuts, ethical issues that needed to be confronted, cessation of a project that someone poured blood, sweat, and tears into...none of them easy. Why? Because humans are involved, and humans come with emotions and a story.
We all are capable of some degree of empathy, and mine is high...like "I cry at the Folgers coffee commercial because I feel for the parents whose son made it home from the military in time for Christmas" kind of high. What I call empathy, my husband calls "emoting", and loves to make fun of me for it. But the reality is, because I recognize and feel what others are going through so strongly, it makes me a better leader...but I had to learn to balance it first, and I'll give you an example.
As a 22 year old student teacher, I was horrible at classroom management. Most of the students I taught came from extreme poverty, broken homes, and had encountered adverse childhood experiences at a very young age; when my kids got off task or misbehaved, I always went easy on them because my heart didn't want to add more to their already challenged lives. The outcome? Classroom chaos. After observing the madness one day, my advisor pulled me aside and said, "Stefanie, no one is going to give these kids a break in the real world; why are you giving them a break in the classroom? You're not doing them any favors." At the time, I was shocked and appalled that this callous individual, who obviously had no empathy, was willing to ignore the pain these kids were going through to make way for better instruction, but with experience and maturity, I began to understand; I had to learn to balance empathy with data to acheive results.
With reflection, research, and strong mentors to model and provide feedback, I've edited and refined a balanced leadership approach over the years. My students and work teams learned that I would always be available to listen, flex with their needs, empower them to experiment and grow, and I would go to bat for them if needed; however, they also understood that I would provide honest feedback, reroute if they were headed down a bad path, and sometimes have to make decisions that weren't popular. Those I've led, understood I had their back, and all decisions made had their best interest at heart, even if it didn't feel that way in the moment.
That brings me to this week. I am Chief Empowerment Officer of WNY People Development, but I am also an elected official, serving in the second, of a four year term as a member of our local School Board. This week, a vote I cast, will impact thousands of students and their families, and I'm struggling. My empathy wants to give in, and it would be well received if I let it dominate; however, I'm calling on the data to provide me the balance. I know my choice will be viewed as unfavorable by many, and I anticipate anger and outrage, but that's the downside to leadership...sometimes you have to make the tough calls. Utilizing my mind AND heart, I must feel comfortable in my decision, and I hope that with time, others can come to understand my stance. (For the record, I'm one of seven, so depending on how my fellow Board Members feel, my vote could be irrelevant.)
Being a leader is so much more than hiring, firing, and budgets. For every decision, there is a face, a family, and a story tied to the outcome. Especially now, empathy is an important, and necessary trait that leaders must possess. That being said, not all decisions can be made because it "feels good"; we must be brave, informed, and always do what's in the best interest for the team and organization.