Almost everyone has heard the term “tough love”. It seems to mean different things to different people, and until you’ve gone through something where you have to perform it on someone, you never really get it right.

Bright Eyes
Creative Commons License Jose Roberto V Moraes
via Compfight

Recently I’ve had to dole out a little bit of tough love. I’m not going into the details, but suffice is to say that I had to do a lot of soul searching and have some pretty serious conversations with my wife before I realized what had to be done. I think all the time I knew I had to take a stand, not only for my own mental comfort but, in my own way, to try to help the person who needed it.

Frankly, as I thought about it, tough love comes about because someone isn’t responding to the normal interactions you either used to have or should be having with someone. If they don’t listen to any advice you give them when they ask for it, or they’re asking you to do something they know you couldn’t possibly be comfortable with, or you realize that you can’t trust them alone in your house or even with you in the house or business, you have to take action of some kind; that’s what tough love is.

A lot of people have had to dole out tough love in their personal lives. This is my first time ever having to deal with it but my wife has dealt with it multiple times. Thus, she was a perfect person to talk to, and her advice helped me solidify my mindset. I have to tell you that it was as tough on me as it was on the person I had to administer it to, although that person would probably never see it that way. In the end though, it had to be done.

So, what about business tough love? Exactly what kind of incident, or behavior, would have to occur before one decided it was time to administer a bit of tough love?

Truthfully, I don’t think there’s any such thing as tough love in business, although I’m sure I’ll have some people disagree with me. What I think some people might be interpreting as tough love in business is actually a lack of true leadership skills.

In essence, a person who has to administer what they consider as tough love in business probably hasn’t been doing the things they should have been doing, and are unwilling to fully do what they need to do. They probably haven’t been monitoring an employee well over the course of time. They probably haven’t been giving performance appraisals more often than once a year. They have probably seen a change in behavior, know what’s behind it, but haven’t attempted to address it in any way and let things get so bad that they’re now forced to take action.

Retrospective
Felipe Morin via Compfight

What makes me say this? Because at least twice in my life as a director I took it upon myself to talk to someone I noticed had changed and knew they were going through something. Both times I addressed it within two weeks, feeling I had to give the person at least a little bit of time to come to grips with what was going on.

At the point where I knew I had to do something I did. I knew the person needed to be spoken to because I monitored everyone, and I talked to employees regularly. I paid attention because I didn’t want anything going on in a person’s personal life to alter the mood of everyone else in a negative way; our department, our business, just couldn’t work properly.

So I spoke to each person, told them what I saw, talked a bit about their issue (I never brought that part up but they wanted to talk) and, in my own way, helped each employee figure out the way to go to help them resolve their issue.

The thing is, I don’t consider any of that tough love; I didn’t then and I don’t now. Even though I cared, I didn’t have a personal stake in any of it. I did what I did because it was expected of me. I had a job to do that I was being paid for and I did it. After all, that’s what true leaders are supposed to do. I was kind though, and I cared how I spoke to them because I knew each person was hurting, and I knew why.

In my opinion (it’s important to stress it that way), there should never be any sort of tough love when it comes to employees. If you have to help them or let them go, that’s your job. You may be doing it to help them but in the long run you’re doing it to protect the interest of your department and your company.

That’s a far cry from doing to try to help someone you love.
 

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