“Hard” doesn’t make it wrong; it only makes it hard.
Choosing the role of leadership means taking on many sub-roles. Many of the sub-roles are quite difficult, like firing people. The danger for the leader is thinking that because something is hard, it is wrong. This is not the case.
It is easy to have an instinct that turns us away from difficult situations. The feelings can be strong around the situations, and somehow the strength of feeling can trigger our moral sense. We start to believe that the situation is requiring us to behave in an unethical way. This then makes it more natural to avoid the situation.
But leadership is about overcoming our natural instincts, and great leaders generally do not act on instinct. When you are in a hard situation, it is important to separate the interpersonal difficulty from any moral issues that may be present. Generally, this will clarify the situation and make it easier to proceed.
Is it truly wrong to fire someone who is dragging down a whole team? Is it wrong to confront a coworker about inappropriate behavior that is hurting the organization’s mission? These are difficult things, but they are not wrong.
As a leader, you are paid to do the hard stuff. You are paid to embrace the things that are hard. Hard things in fact tend to be hard because they are the things we care about. If we don’t care about a certain thing, decisions and actions around that thing are not difficult. If we care about people, firing them is hard. Our values are in conflict: we care both about the person and about the organization. And we don’t want to be the bad guy.
But just because our values are in conflict, and it feels wrong, that doesn’t mean that what we do is morally wrong. Right and wrong are a separate matter.
Attending to our feelings, and acting on them, is natural. But feelings do not always lead us to the highest truth and the best outcomes. If you identify your feelings in difficult situations, they have less power over your actions. This is why self-awareness is important. Self-awareness allows us to overcome our natural instincts when it is important to do so.
People’s instincts tend to turn them away from hard things. But the fact that something is hard means we need to spend more time on it, that we need to focus our attention on it. This is constantly evident in organizations and among leaders. People ignore the hard parts of their roles. Instead of dealing with them, they create workarounds. This team doesn’t work with that team, so the organization moves another team to bypass the dysfunction. Or because this person doesn’t do a good job, they move them into another role, or create a different structure.
Our minds move away from hard things, toward what is comfortable. You must avoid that instinct. To find the things that are hard that you’re ignoring, ask yourself questions like, “Who is the person I really need to be having a conversation with, and what does that conversation sound like?” Or, “What problem have I been avoiding that I can’t avoid any longer?”
These questions can bring up items that your mind has been putting away. They can help you focus on things that you are avoiding because they feel wrong, whereas truly they may not be.