I’m going to tell you a truth. I always thought being in management was a pretty easy job. Sure, there were pressures like anything else one does, but for whatever reason I don’t think I felt any pressure 95% of the time I was in a leadership position.

That other 5% is pretty interesting, though. Those are the times that people who don’t want to be leaders dread. It’s those times when you have to make hard decisions that will either affect your life or the lives of someone else. Those times are diverse; it could mean an increase in work load or it could mean ending someone’s employment. It can even be easy things such as having to tell someone they need to change work schedules or alter their wardrobe because it’s not business appropriate.

Unless you’re a consultant that has no emotional ties to the company that hires you, none of these things you have to do are easy. With some of them, you take a long time in trying to decide just how to handle things so you don’t look bad. Often, there’s nothing you can do that will make someone think better of you on the way out. I’ve only known a few people who have left gracefully when I used to have to let them go. Yet, the reaction of those people paled in comparison to whenever someone challenged how a person was dressed (I almost totally got out of this when I had a female supervisor be the “clothes police”, but every once in awhile someone wanted to come to me for my opinion on what they were wearing).

Even though I always knew I had to make the tough call, I would hesitate just a little bit to make sure I had gotten it all correct. I wasn’t the type to address someone based on a knee jerk reaction of someone else. I also was the type who documented things so that if I had to take a disciplinary action I could justify it. Also, there were times when it wasn’t totally my call, like when the business had to downsize and I was told that I had to eliminate positions. Deciding who to eliminate was never an easy proposition; trust me on that one.

Yet, I did it, and even when it was difficult, I knew I was following directives, or that it was the right thing to do. In those times, I didn’t fret as much as others did because I was always cautious about making sure I never crossed boundaries. I was friendly with everyone, but not “friends” per se. That’s when things get ugly, when people really feel betrayed. Treat people fairly and nicely, and of course document everything, and no one can ever accuse you of “picking on them”, or “betraying a trust”. And make a decision based on real criteria and not emotions.

I remember a Star Trek episode where one of the characters was trying to earn a promotion, but she kept failing at one part and couldn’t figure out why. When she finally figured it out, it turned out that what she had to be willing to do was order someone to do something knowing that it would cause their death, but would benefit the greater cause. I took from that episode two things. One, sometimes you have to do what you have to do for the good of the many. Two, any decision I would ever have to make in my life wouldn’t end in sending someone to their death, and thus was much easier to make.

How well do you handle making the hard decision?