Had a cool conversation the other day about a young manager at our company. The main topic was whether this manager, who’s technically very sound and liked by all, had the intestinal fortitude (that’s guts, people) to make tough decisions, and generally be enough of a jerk to handle the tough stuff.
Nice folks are routinely the target of these types of questions when it comes to succession planning, aren’t they? Love you where you are, but can you summon the inner jerk if I promote you one or two levels? Are you tough enough? Are you still listening to New Kids On The Block and Smashmouth? Do you own a Disturbed or Godsmack CD? Did you like Van Halen with David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar?
Sammy? AH-HA!!! I told them you weren’t tough enough!!! HaHaHaHaHaHa…..
But, I digress. My counsel in these situations is pretty simple, when it comes to toughness. Everyone’s got a range in their personality. If your toughness/confrontation/jerk component isn’t as strong as someone else’s, you just have to know who you are, and be able to summon what you need, when you need it. For a tough position, you might have to run at your 95% "tough" level within your range to operate, whereas Sam Zell could summon the same tough/jerk/I’m asking to be sued quotient on demand in the McDonalds drive thru.
Different strokes for different folks, as they say in the business.
After I had that conversation, I found the following article form John Baldoni at Havard Business Blogs, who does a good job of explaining how leaders can be tough without screaming:
They defuse tension. Performing under pressure is a prerequisite for leadership, but too much pressure can be a prescription for disaster. It falls to the leader to maintain the sense of urgency and momentum but also to give people some breathing room. This is not an excuse to slack off; it is an invitation to be careful and deliberate. Also, keep in mind that tension that comes from interpersonal conflicts is seldom positive; leaders need to eradicate it by making some hard decisions about who works with whom and why.
They get up off the floor. There’s no shame in getting knocked down; youth sports teaches that lesson very well. What matters is what you do next. Strategies will miss the mark; wrong skills will be applied; and projects will fail. Such is life in the organization. It’s a leader’s job to get back into the game and keep slogging. That requires resilience, an ability to flex with adversity as well as persevere when the going gets rough.
They let off some steam. If you are a team leader, and someone on your team makes a big mistake, one that he was obviously warned about, it’s natural to become annoyed. It is also acceptable to focus some heat on the person who made a mistake. The challenge is to focus your irritation on the action, not the person. He needs to know your displeasure; it may help him pay more attention the next time.
So, don’t cheat your talent out of promotions, because you don’t think they’re tough enough. Just talk to them openly and honestly about the requirements of the position that involve confrontation.
Then do something most don’t once you’ve had that conversation. Coach them every week about what you’re seeing. Be a mentor.
Or give them a Disturbed CD and let them listen to it at work to get their mojo rolling. Your call.
Kris Dunn is a Partner and CHRO at Kinetix, a national RPO firm for growth companies headquartered in Atlanta. He’s also the founder Fistful of Talent (founded in 2008) and The HR Capitalist (2007) – and has written over 70 feature columns at Workforce Management magazine. Prior to his investment at Kinetix, Kris served in HR leadership roles at DAXKO, Charter and Cingular. In his spare time, KD hits the road as a speaker and gives the world what it needs – pop culture references linked to Human Capital street smarts.