Sometimes, leadership means making painful decisions.

Pain is temporary. It may last for a minute, or an hour, or a day, or even a year. But eventually it will subside and something else will take its place.

Painful Generosity - Leaders Cannot Be Greedy
Leaders make the painful decisions when they are the right decisions.
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Yesterday I wrote about painful generosity; how great leaders cannot be greedy. Leaders must give even when it hurts. Leaders also make decisions that hurt, when they are the right decisions to make.

I recently went to a birthday dinner at a restaurant here in Fort Wayne that resulted in the single worst dining experience of my life. That is not an exaggeration. The poor service and chicken that tasted like it had been microwaved in a sweaty gym sock weren’t the worst part and aren’t the focus of this post.

The worst part, and something that good leadership could have addressed, was the 15-person bachelor party that was originally seated right next to us. After about five minutes of them, we moved across the restaurant, where we still had the pleasure of hearing their profane yells, fraternity chants, and various other things I haven’t heard since college and/or the Arsenio Hall Show. We weren’t the only group whose dining experience they ruined.

I could not help but think what a good leader would do in this situation. I estimate that the bachelor party would probably spend about $500 in food, beer, and tips. The servers would each pocket about $50. I suppose that is a fair trade for dealing with a bunch of perverts spouting a never-ending barrage of cheesy pick-up lines (laying the sarcasm on pretty thick there). That is a lot of money for a restaurant like this. I can see dollar signs flashing in the manager’s eyes.

But a good leader would have done two critical, and very painful, things:

  1. Asked them to leave. Put another way, he or she would have kicked them out. A good leader would sacrifice their business for the good of the rest of the restaurant. He or she would have asked them to leave and covered whatever they already purchased.
  2. Tell others about the decision. This one isn’t as painful. In fact, it might even make the leader a hero to some. A good leader, after kicking the bums out, would have gone to each table and told them what he or she had done, so that they would know the manager had acted in their best interests. That is leadership.

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I’m not saying this would be easy. Kicking out an unruly or disrespectful customer is not fun or profitable in the short term. But it is always the right decision. Leaders make the painful decisions when they are the right decisions. (Click to Tweet)

I have dealt with these types of customers the wrong way and right way. Once I had a customer service rep tell me that a client had just cussed her out. I told her something to the effect of “Oh, that sucks. Yeah, it happens.” I then waited anxiously by the mailbox for my “Manager of the Year” award. Surprisingly it never arrived.

Years later a team member forwarded me an email from a client who had insulted her via email. She wasn’t asking for help, just letting me know about another issue addressed in the email. I replied all and told this client that he owed her an apology and that I would not tolerate him treating someone on my team that way. I knew full well that he might pull his business from us and I was prepared for that. I did the right thing and that was all that mattered. He was repentant, apologized to both me and the team member, and she was thankful to the point of tears. No one had ever done something like that for her.

Leadership is hard. Leaders must make the right decision even when it hurts. Something good always comes out of it.

Have you ever had to make a painful decision that you knew was the right decision? What was the result of it?

12 thoughts on “Leaders Make Painful Decisions

  1. Todd Liles says:

    In college I managed a pet store. It was a blast. I hired my best friend and girlfriend. Before it was done, I had to fire my best friend. He was smoking outside, when customers were inside. I had to reprimand my girlfriend becauses she was studying at the counter. Today, he is still my best friend from college. She is my wife.

    1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

      Well I’d as that worked out for ya Todd!

    2. Matt McWilliams says:

      I’ll bet that caused at least one sleepless night before you took action. But the pain was temporary the rewards last forever.

      Thanks for sharing Todd!

      1. Todd Liles says:

        Matt – No lost sleep at all. It was pretty instant. My driver took over. I would think those type of reactions over in much greater detail today.

  2. Mark Sieverkropp says:

    Man, what a great post. I actually got more out of it about standing up or your team than making hard decisions. It seems that in our culture we’re just suppose to deal with rude customers. I think there certainly are times where you just ignore the complainers and rude customers, but just like your story, there are times where it’s appropriate and necessary to draw a line as to what you’ll tolerate.
    As far as tough decisions, a friend of mien who owns a business told me recently that he should’ve fired 2 or 3 of his key people about 18 months ago. He didn’t, and they’ve caused him countless headaches since. He admitted to me that he knew he should’ve, but that it’s tough to get rid of a key person, even if they do cause issues. Definitely a painful decision, and just as painful when it wasn’t made.
    I think that’s key, if a decision is painful to make, NOT making that decision will probably cause pain and stress too.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Dang Mark. That last sentence is POW-ER-FUL!

      1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        Ha. Thanks Matt. I think if we remembered that it’s make it easier to make decisions

      2. Matt McWilliams says:

        Remember what? Oh, that. Yeah 🙂

        You are right. I don’t remember the exact wording but one of Google’s core values was acting quickly. They determined any decision was better than no decision. I don’t think that means playing loose, just not being so slow you actually forget there is a decision to be made.

      3. Chance Smith says:

        Me too! Love the that line. I feel you! It hurts to see the decision and feel the repercussions of not acting on it.

  3. Lily Kreitinger says:

    Nicely written! If I had taken those painful decisions of kicking out the bad apples on my team years ago, I probably would’ve stayed at that job much longer. I was so busy trying to make everyone happy that I lost sight of the greater good of the organization and the people my team served. The gossip, backstabbing and sabotaging would’ve stopped if I would’ve decided to bear the pain of being unpopular. Great reminders today!!!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Well worded Lily.

      “The gossip, backstabbing and sabotaging would’ve stopped if I would’ve decided to bear the pain of being unpopular.”

      It’s hard, but I think we have to imagine what happens when we make those tough decisions…ooh that’s a blog series next week 🙂

  4. Chance Smith says:

    Moto- “The short term is not the goal..” and repeat. Great examples here Matt! Keep it personal like this.

    How do you handle situations in stores like this?
    We yearn for great people to serve us to make the night as best it can be for our date or spouse. We know what great service looks like and we teach it day in and day out. I start to expect it. I have been rubbing off on my wife and now she expects or looks for a quality of service.

    You know I am working my way backwards. I am going to really put you to the test on your past posts here soon.

    Thank you Matt! Eating it up.

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