WORDS BY JOHNNY ISAACS - 26/05/2020
Difficult Decisions
The world is in turmoil. Right now we need strong and effective action from our leaders. But more and more it seems that it's more important to be liked than it is to be effective or to make the right decisions.
It is a leader's responsibility to have the courage and conviction in making difficult decisions. As a leader, you are the steward of your people's best interests.
Watching my usual daily news briefing the other morning I heard something that struck a chord. It's something that I've heard a few times in different situations but in this particular instance it related to politicians.

The long and short was this:
"Politicians should make unpopular decisions if it is the right thing to do."
I sat there watching utterly dumbfounded, I thought to myself, "why isn't this truth self evident?". But as I pondered, I realised that the newsreader was simply presenting a very well accepted, if somewhat uncomfortable truth. That as of right now, it is more important to be liked than it is to be effective or to make the right decisions.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to do what is right by the people you represent regardless of whether or not that decision may or may not be immediately popular. I'm choosing my words carefully here when I say immediately because very often, whilst a decision may be derided or bemoaned in the short term. It will very likely be praised in the future or at the very least be understood as the right thing to have done. It is a leader's responsibility to have the courage and conviction to make these often difficult decisions because you are the steward of your people's, organisation's or constituent's best interests.

We live in a peculiar time. Speaking as someone who has grown up being taught a particular set of values I sometimes struggle with many of the things I am confronted by on a daily basis. All too often promises are made with no intention of being fulfilled, lies are told to spare the feelings of friends and loved ones where a truth delivered with compassion and genuine consideration would serve them better, facts are not laid bare because it makes for uncomfortable viewing. What happens next is worse and far more insidious. Actions are taken that are not in line with the best interests of the person or persons to be served and how to benefit them in the long term. Instead we aim to placate or take actions to benefit the position of the individual who wants to avoid criticism or a possible confrontation in the short term. All the while ignoring the implications this might have in the future. An example here might be something as innocuous this. Imagine you are out with a friend for dinner. You get to the end of the meal and notice some food in their teeth. You want to spare them embarrassment and certainly don't want to make them feel bad so you say nothing. But then whilst you are out your friend bumps into someone that they like in a romantic sense who notices it, tells them and this leaves your friend mortified. They are much more embarrassed now than they would have been and pretty upset with you. So rightly so they give you an ear bashing for not letting them know before this encounter. Avoiding this conversation may have made you feel better in the short term but ultimately your choice led to the embarrassment of your friend and you getting chastised. This needless to say is a small example but from this, it's easy to see how these seemingly insignificant choices can have a much bigger ripple effect.
The ripple effect. A small action or inaction can have much farther reaching consequences.
"It's better to learn an ugly truth than be told a beautiful lie."
Human relationships are built on a foundation of trust. Whether it be friendships, romantic relationships or business relationships. This is about as true a statement as anyone can make. We've all heard the phrase "without trust, you've got nothing" in some form or another. Well, leaders have to bear this truth in mind more than anyone else. As a leader you are instantly thrust into a position of trust and authority, it is the unwritten rule that you are there to look out for the best interests of everyone who chooses to follow you. Therefore because of this, leaders have to take appropriate actions and ensure that trust is maintained, nurtured and flourishes. At some point this will inevitably mean making a decision that won't be popular with everyone. How you choose to respond in these situations will define you as a leader in the eyes of your people and I don't say this flippantly.

Take for example an issue that many are struggling with right now. Money and cashflow. Your company is experiencing financial difficulty, your pipeline is slowing and you need to review possible strategies for how to save on costs. You also need to keep the company afloat, preserve the workforce's morale and develop a strategy for possible ways out of the situation in the future. Let's assume your team of advisors and yourself have reviewed the facts, you've reviewed the data and considered the impact that any of your proposed decisions will have on your workforce from the C Level Exec to the cleaning staff. No one has been overlooked. Having considered all of the information available, you identify that there will in the short term, need to be some pay cuts. However you know that by doing this no one loses their job. You have worked out who can afford to take home a little less without putting themselves in difficulty via interviews and implemented the measure. Now even though you know it won't be popular in the short term, you took an action to look after all of your team, because no one is dispensable. You spoke to your team and your advisors, and you made a decision that allowed for all points of view to be considered.

The explanation and dissemination of knowledge is key here. Great leaders communicate. They may indeed be afraid of criticism as many of us are but, they know what's right for the long term and they take action with this in mind. Any good leader knows that it is the future and longer term success of an organisation that matters more than short term gain. These are the teams that win the day. What I described above was a situation in which there was the ability to avoid job losses and the goal of any leader, should be to make this their number one priority. Sometimes this isn't possible as we have unfortunately seen. Ultimately whatever action taken by a leader may result in an immediate backlash or criticism but it's vital they keep the door open, communicate whenever and wherever they can in order to outline the decisions made and why long term, they are the right ones, no matter how difficult. This human to human communication builds trust in your leadership. People may not like it, but they will understand and respect both you and your decisions. When the benefits starts to show themselves, that means you're going to be even more trusted in the future than you were previously because your people know you aren't afraid to do what's right even if not everyone will like it.

I've never much wanted to go into politics, I personally find it distasteful. But I recently thought about why that is. The truth is that I just don't want to make promises I know I won't keep, may not be able to keep, might keep in some sort of way that barely resembles what I initially said, or even put myself into a position where any of the above situations are possible. I take promises and commitments very seriously. The idea of letting someone down is something I just don't like. Not delivering on your promises seems like flat out lying to me. But how many of us can say we have been in situations where this has happened to us? How many times has this happened where that person was a supposed leader? It's incredible how common this is and well, to put it bluntly, it sucks. If there is only one thing that you take away from this piece let it be this. Leadership is a privilege yes, but a responsibility first and foremost. A responsibility to serve those who have put their trust in you. A responsibility to look out for their best interests, even if and especially when that involves a decision they may not like. Leaders understand that what's best for many, outweighs the needs of any individual.
Leadership is a privilege yes, but a responsibility first and foremost. A responsibility to serve those who have put their trust in you.
You might be thinking to yourself, "This is all fine and dandy but what does any of this have to do with branding, me or my company?". Well here's the rub, how you are perceived in the eyes of your brand advocates, clients, customers, fans or however you describe your audience, all depends on your ability to lead well. As a brand, you have chosen to stand for a set of a values, staked your name to them and represent these in the eyes of your customer. Your positioning is dependent upon these values , they form your mission statement, your value proposition and the association your customers will have with you. It is vital that you understand what your values are as a business and weave these into the DNA of your company and those who you task with leading it. Great companies are built on great cultures, and great cultures breed great leaders. Leaders who have an intrinsic understanding of the company they are a part of and the core values it has been built on. Leaders who will never do anything to diminish or tarnish these in the eyes of your clients or customers. This can only be done by having a firm and clear understanding of what it is your company stands for and how you want to do business both right now and in the future. This ensures that whomever you bring into your business family in the future understands what it is that they as an employee represent through their association with your company and what that means to the world.

I spoke earlier in the piece about how I had been raised with a certain set of values. Well a brand is no different. Whatever values you nurture now as part of your company's culture will continue to grow. It is up to you to define them and to lead in the right way so that others might follow that example and hold themselves to this higher standard also. This will inevitably mean making some difficult choices at some point, including some that people may not like in the short term. But when you know that your actions are aligned with your company values and that these are built on the firm principles of doing the right thing by the people you serve then you can at least have faith that it was the right decision for the long term. We need great leaders now, we need people that have a strong set of values and hold themselves to account. Leaders who are able to make difficult decisions and know that it's more important to do what's right, than what is popular.
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