Most of the CEOs I’ve worked with over the years understand the inevitability of having to suffer in order to achieve success. They are willing to sacrifice elements of their free time and personal lives in order to advance in their careers. But there is one area where too many leaders, especially senior executives, are unwilling to suffer, and which creates serious dysfunction in their organizations. What I’m talking about is the reluctance to engage in uncomfortable conversations, especially as it relates to confronting subordinates and peers about their behaviors.
All leaders experience those moments of truth when they realize that they should confront someone about an uncomfortable situation (e.g. “I think you talk too much during meetings,” “You come across as a little bit arrogant with your staff members,” or “You need to prepare more for your client presentations.”). And so often, leaders balk. I know, because I’ve been there. And I know—after having made the right decision in some circumstances, and the wrong one in others—that there is no justification, other than cowardice, for chickening out.
At the root of this remarkably simple but harmful problem is the natural human desire to avoid discomfort. Show me someone who loves to tell a colleague that he is rude or careless or apathetic, and I’ll show you someone who is either a bully, or a saint. The goal of a great leader is not to take joy in confronting people, but rather to do it because it’s right for the organization and the employee.
So, the next time you find yourself facing the distasteful prospect of having to confront someone about something uncomfortable, have the courage and wisdom to choose the pain. Even if no one knows it, you’ll be a hero in your organization. Or perhaps a saint.