Making the Tough Call


Every parent knows that sometimes their children will stretch the boundaries - that's just being kids wanting to see how far they can go. A parent, who states that a punishment will occur if their child does something ‘just one more time' and then doesn't act on it, is in trouble. If the parent only threatens and doesn't carry out the punishment, he or she will be outsmarted by the child. Kids learn very quickly how stretchy the boundaries are and it's usually the parents who suffer in the end if they renege on their decisions.

Leaders are often faced with making tough decisions.  Sometimes it’s easy while others it’s very challenging and can be a risk.  That’s when leaders distinguish themselves and show who they really are. Leading others can be very difficult and can take great courage.  Every change, every challenge, and every crisis requires a tough call, and the way those are handled is what separates good leaders from the rest.


Who is in the ‘Leadership’ Basket?

Parents, teachers, CEOs, Chairmen and their boards and anyone in a senior management role in any sort of organisation, whether as a volunteer or employed, including the political arena, from time to time may need to make a tough call.  A few years ago a workshop attendee brought up the problem of a peer who was bullying her team.  She wondered if she should go to the branch manager and with the support of those in the workshop she took a risk.  The problem was that senior manager knew about the problem and avoided making the tough decision.  Eventually it went to a very senior level before the appropriate process and actions were put into place.  In the meantime the whole office suffered because of one person and some of the people left because they’d given up hope.


A high turnover in a team or department should send alarm bells to the CEO and HR department. Some people may say it should never go that far but unfortunately when people are fearful of their own future they keep quiet and look for a way out. On another occasion I was asked to coach a young manager who was very unhappy in her role.  The company didn’t want to lose her because she was extremely talented and produced outstanding work for the company. What turned out was that the head of the department was a controlling manager who manipulated and threatened the staff.  The turnover in his area was 75% in under a year and it was all the best people who had left.  The young manager stayed for a while but in the end she left as she wouldn’t tolerate her boss’s behaviour, yet she never took a personal grievance for fear of repercussions.


Trouble at the Top

What if the problem is at the most senior level?  CEO’s have their reputation at stake and so then it’s the board that needs to take responsibility especially when they know there is a problem.  Exit interviews are a way of finding out the reason for a person’s departure.  Was it for the right reason?  A new and wonderful opportunity or was it because they couldn’t stand being around certain people, or one person, anymore?  If exit interviews are done internally then the interviewer needs to be extremely skilful and trustworthy to uncover the real reason.  Unfortunately Boards and Management of organisations often value a CEO or manager for the results they deliver without considering the carnage these people cause along the way.


Taking a Risk and Making the tough call as the ‘victim’?

It takes courage to speak up when you know something is wrong.  Sometimes people are too fearful to say anything especially if the ‘problem’ person is the leader of the organisation.  They are afraid that the leader will bad mouth them outside of the organisation and make up a story that makes the ‘victim’ appear to be the problem.  So who do you go to?


When I was working in Tokyo Japan, after four years I changed jobs and landed what I thought was a dream career.  It was with the largest transformational leadership training company in Asia at that time.  For the first year it was a dream.  I worked with people who I learned from and had fun too.  I had two different bosses in that year and both where outstanding leaders, but then came the change. 


The owner of the company had re-located back to the USA.  He put in his place a long time friend.  In retrospect I realised that this person John* had been in Tokyo for many years and this was a return favour.  John was known to be excellent at working with Japanese to produce great sales results.  Only two of us were ‘gaijin’ (foreigners).  What we discovered very quickly was that John was proud to be very overweight as it gave him power (his words!).  He set the team members up against each other and managed by fear. That was until the day he shouted at me because I had just landed a major contract with a client and some of the training product was not yet designed. I had had enough of this and immediately said to my Japanese colleague I was going to resign and went to see my old boss Roger*. He was shocked to hear what had been happening and persuaded me to stay as John was about to go away for two weeks.  I did stay for a short time but knew the situation was impossible and I did resign.  I happened already, to have another job to go to however; if I hadn’t, I would still have left. My package was a big one (apartment, very good salary, home paid leave and club memberships) yet I was prepared to give all that up. It took guts and honesty to tell the owner why I couldn’t stay with the company.  I later heard from colleagues that John blamed me leaving for his failure in reaching the sales target for that year.


Call to Action

The point of this is if you know of anyone who is not leading with integrity and respect or is behaving totally inappropriately, are you prepared to take the risk to speak to the people who have the ability and authority to take action?  Or is it you who needs to take action?


Lastly if you have a son or daughter at school who is in a leadership role, such as a prefect, it is important to support them in being a leader and in making the tough calls such as when they know there is a bully causing pain and suffering to even one person. Or it may even be something that seems trivial today such as graffiti.  It can be a form of bullying and if it becomes a big problem the prefects can issue a punishment that affects the whole school.  I call that leadership and a non-tolerance for lack of respect and pride.  Is there any action that you know you should have taken or need to take now?

Note: *John and Roger – names changed for privacy


© 2012 Gilly Chater

The Breakthrough Catalyst


Gilly helps people achieve insight powered breakthroughs for themselves and their businesses. She is an inspirational speaker who presents keynotes and breakouts at conferences and writes about the key ingredients for success in today’s world.

You may also like:

Filed under Leadership Development. Posted by The Corporate Toolbox on