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Leader: 3 things to keep in mind when difficult things happens

I’m tired of it.

I’m tired of all the bad things ending up on my desk.  I’m tired of team members not being responsible enough.  I’m tired of people who give up at the first sign of difficulty, who wimp out when the going gets tough, who are fair-weather workers, but want to be coddled when things aren’t working in their favor.  Leader – I’ll bet your tired of it too.

We recently lost a subordinate leader because the schedule she was expected to follow – the schedule that she had agreed to ahead of time – was interfering with non-work commitments.  I’m all for work-life balance, but when someone is working far less than the 40 hours agreed to, yet maintaining that he or she is working too hard, and leaves with a number of things – hard things – not done, I get frustrated.

Why do all the hard things flow up?

In a previous blog, I acknowledged the life of a leader is focused on three things: people, the future, and difficult things. People because making decisions about soft skills and using emotional intelligence to build the right team is always the most important focus for a leader. The future because you, and only you – leader, are the one who is responsible for painting a picture of the coming reality.  They are all too busy with their heads down, getting their day-to-day work done.  That leads us to difficult things.  Things that are risky.  Things that are multi-layered.  Things that could go either way.  Things that other people don’t want to deal with. Things that are not easily solved.  You and I earn our leadership chops when we deal with these things well.

Three things to keep in mind when dealing with difficult things

1. Invest in the right team members

While difficult things remain primarily the responsibility of the leader, when you build the right team, less becomes difficult for you.  Recruiting, coaching and mentoring, giving clear direction, celebrating successes – when we do these things well as leaders, our team members grow.  And as a result, fewer and fewer things come across your desk.

2. Learn from your mistakes

One of our facilities is remote – about 90 minutes away.  After our initial enthusiasm, I stopped being as involved as I needed to be.  We started missing our numbers,  I started sticking my head in the sand.  We started losing money.  I continued to stay blissfully optimistic.  I put the wrong team members in place.  I didn’t monitor what needed to be monitored. I ignored the truism “Hope is not a business strategy.” Ultimately we went through five managers and lost more than six figures before we fixed what was broken.  And, hopefully, I learned some valuable lessons. A mistake is okay.  Repeating the same mistakes over and over is stupidity.

3. Realize that your life as a leader is always going to be about the difficult things

The truth is, if it was quick or easy, they would have done it without you.  If it didn’t require hard thinking or hard conversations, they wouldn’t have put it off or ignored it.  The reason that hard things flow up is because they don’t want to deal with them.  Or they aren’t able to deal with them.  Maybe they aren’t even qualified to deal with them.  Furthermore, leader, part of what makes you a leader is that you welcome the difficult things.  You know dealing well with these things is what makes or breaks your leadership and, oftentimes, your organization.  Welcome difficult things – they make you who you are.