When I first started out as a leader, I tended to do too much of the work myself. I assigned tasks; I did not delegate responsibilities. I also tended to avoid hard conversations about people’s performance or the company’s performance, and tended to get overly involved in solving people’s problems for them.
It feels ridiculous to say this now, but I tried to make up for the shortcomings of the people I hired by working harder myself. I also downplayed negative issues in the organization, not wanting to worry people about things. I took these on myself, too. The more people on my team, the more issues were left unaddressed both performance-wise and business-wise. I thought I was being a compassionate and caring boss. This did not go well for me. I burned out and I lost people regularly.
What I have learned over the years is that sweeping performance issues under the rug it is not being compassionate or caring. When you are honest yet non-judgmental about what you see, good people appreciate it. People want feedback—both good and bad—and it shows you care when you take the time to have the hard conversations. Similarly, whereas I used to downplay bad news, now I bring it up and watch good people get inspired to solve problems, or at least be supportive of me if it’s a challenge I need to address directly. Either way, people want to be in on it and don’t want to be “protected”. When people call me a “no-BS” kind of leader nowadays, a straight-shooter or something like that, I laugh a bit inside because I was once such a wimp. I now see the power in being straightforward about workplace challenges and have developed the right habits—a big improvement.
Other successful leaders I know were always “no-BS” people—tigers. Straight-shooters to a fault. Cut to the chase, no touchy feely stuff here, just do-your-job-or-get-out kind of people. These ones learn to be kinder and gentler over time, making connections with people before they get down to business. They learn that moving too fast on process and business stuff, being overly demanding and ignoring people’s needs, is slower and less effective than balancing a focus on results with compassion and caring.
Leaders I admire—those who develop engaged, effective teams—all have a good balance of compassion and results orientation, no matter how they got there.