As I sat in the office after hours, after a particularly difficult day, I wondered whether or not the average person ever considers the "down" side to leadership. My last post told the story of a colleague who wanted to apply for a position at a higher level "because then I could be in control". I often wonder why people aspire to positions of power and authority. I learned long ago that positions of power and authority at higher levels of the organization chart are not necessarily correlated with my definition of leadership because leaders can lead from all levels of and organization. So why then do people wish to move up the organization chart? power? control? money? affiliation? ego? altruism? etc. I'm sure that there are many, many reasons people seek to move up the organizational ladder. Do people ever consider the "dark days" of leadership?
However, on this day, it is not about the up-side to leadership. Today was about implementing difficult decisions and informing those impacted by those decisions. In speaking to groups about leadership, the participants frequently ask about how I communicate to an individual that is about to be laid off and what do I say to them.
I like speaking to groups about leadership because so often the participants cut through all the leadership theory and get to the heart of the matter - implementation and application. So, in general, here is how I answered the group:
1. Be factual during the communication.
2. Acknowledge the employee's past contributions using specific examples about how the employee contributed to the organization or team.
3. Listen, do not respond, while the employee shares their feelings or asks questions.
4. Affirm their feelings.
5. Do not be in a hurry to end the meeting - allow the employee time to absorb the information that you just shared with them. Give them room to react to the news.
Be sure to have a list of resources available for the employee so when they are ready to begin transitioning they have the assistance they need to successfully find another position within the organization or employment outside the organization.
The difficulty in writing such a blog post as this is that the content becomes "reductionist". The result is an almost mechanical response to a situation. For me, this type of a situation is not mechanical. While hard decisions have to be made in the best interest of the organization, the impact of those decisions are no less difficult. Remember the human side of the decision.
My doctoral dissertation chair, Dr. Leonard Kaplan, gave me excellent advise after I successfully defended my dissertation. He reminded me that one day I would serve on dissertation committees and that I should not make the process any more stressful than it needs to be. He continued by telling me that one of the goals of the committee members is to support the candidate by telling them the good and the bad, factually and then lead them to the resources they need to move forward successfully. I listened carefully as Dr. Kaplan shared his advise because I believed one day I would serve on dissertation committees and I did. However, his advise is equally as applicable to leadership in the complex world of higher education.