The Tough/Caring Conundrum

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There is a lot of testosterone involved in the leadership position. Male or female doesn’t make much of a difference in this regard in my experience. Leaders are exalted for their toughness.

What does tough mean though?

We take charge. We move forward. We exhibit courage. We make difficult choices.

Unfortunately, I often see tough as the excuse for lazy.

When a CEO hears about all the challenges their team is facing and says, “Just get it done!” and leaves the room are they being tough, motivating the team, or are they dumping the responsibility on the team and getting out of Dodge. Clearly, conscious intent matters.

When a leader acts tough is it to mask a deficiency in the process? Is it being tough to say, “Do more with less.” or is it an abdication of responsibility?

I deal in something that can be considered a more people oriented function – leading organizational change and innovation. My clients and other observers are sometimes very surprised how tough I can be. I constantly stretch people. So, it’s not always peaches and cream.

A crucial component of great leadership is to genuinely care about people.

Caring about people is NOT the opposite of being tough.

Tough is reversing a decision because you care about your employees, even though it costs you $2 million. That’s what former Starbucks CEO Howard Behar did early in the growth arc of Starbucks.

Howard could have pushed forward with the initiative regardless of how the employees felt. That would have been a hard-driving tough CEO thing to do. Rather, he was tough enough to care. Send me a note if you’d like a copy of my podcast interview with Howard from a couple years ago. Valuable lessons.

We named our new company Constituent Hub because we’ve found that in leading change ironically it’s easy to forget about the people who are called stakeholders. It’s very impersonal. Instead we call the people affected by our change constituents.

The word constituent implies that we care about the people. We owe them something. It serves as a reminder that the reason we are doing the hard work is for these people, our constituents.

We make tough decisions and bust through walls because we care.

Understanding this subtle paradox is a foundation of The New Leadership Normal.

To do this week: Define how you are tough. Is it from a basis of caring or something else?

Let me know how it’s goes. Click the “comments” box below to participate in an on-going discussion via LinkedIn.

Jim Canterucci

I don't know everything. But I want to. The focus of our firm, Transition Management Advisors, is to develop leadership capabilities to create a championship culture, generate innovation, and successfully lead the resulting changes.

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On September 26, 2017
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