Leadership trainers today tend to lean to the soft side of leadership. By this I mean that they emphasize servanthood and investment in workers and team building and the arts of motivation and how to change society by changing lives on the job. I know this is true because I emphasize these things too—and I offer no apology. They are important and the heart of the art for most leaders.
However, this strong lean in our generation can tend to leave some leaders unprepared for the hard-edged side of leadership. Now, I’ve never had a difficult time with this side of leadership myself. I grew up in a jock and military culture, cut my teeth in leadership by leading men at a major university, and have never shied away from exercising command when that facet of the leadership diamond was in demand.
However, I’ve become aware that some leaders almost completely lack the ability to enforce standards, make difficult decisions, exercise authority or, frankly, run their firms with confidence and clarity.
I’ve become more aware of this as I’ve been speaking at some events recently for Dave Ramsey. We have long been friends and I have often spoken to his 400-member team in Nashville or appeared on his TV show and podcast, but in the last few months I’ve begun to appear at some of Dave’s events around the United States. My friend has impressed me even more with his clear but compassionate sense of command.
We were in a Q&A session. The head of a firm began asking what he should do about a worker who constantly “leaked” discontent and pulled against the vision. Dave didn’t hesitate. “Who owns the firm?” he asked. “I do,” the man responded. “Well, then who is responsible for this?” Long pause. “I am.” Then, Dave: “Hear me. It is cruel to let this go on. It is cruel not to be clear about your expectations. You are hurting this individual. You are hurting your other workers. You are damaging the vision. Step in, lovingly but firmly, confront this and send this person packing if you must. You are the owner. You are the boss. You are the only solution.”
Now this sounds harsh to most modern ears. Yet everything Dave said was true. It’s just that when he says this much truth in rapid-fire succession, it’s almost overwhelming. And this was true for this young leader mainly because he had never looked himself in the mirror of his soul and said, “This is my firm. I’m in charge. I will lead for the good with my goals and the people who have teamed with me.”
It seems simple. Yet most leaders either have profound insecurities or have heard stories about harsh leaders that they never want told about them. Hear this: being in command does not mean being a dictator. It does not mean abuse and trauma and mess and lawsuits. It simply means being clear. It means doing the hard things well. It means enforcing clear lines and creating a protected space in which people can securely do their best.
My friend Dave Ramsey inspires me, and not because I am weak in this area of his strength. He inspires me because he links compassion and command in a way that few do. One of his maxims is, “It’s cruel to be unclear.” In other words, lack of definitive command and communication is cruel to those trying to follow you. So true.
Okay. You know what I want you to do. Examine yourself. Enlist the input of others. Face your inner deformities. Make the leadership changes you need to make.