Leaders Are Required to Be Hard and Soft With People

This article will support you to:

  • Acknowledge some of the varied situations that leaders face
  • Reflect on how to support employees
  • Contemplate how to maintain balance

Coming into a leadership situation, it is expected that you understand how to create structure, set up timelines, develop metrics, monitor performance, and report successes. When things go well it calls for celebration – which is a great reward. When teams underperform, you bring it to their attention in a way that is honest and respectful. We know these things and yet there are many situations that happen that do not get a mention in management trainings such as working with someone with a complex medical situation, going through divorce, or another crisis. In these times, you will need to put aside the metrics and goals to honor and respect the person in front of you.

When should you step on the gas? When should you hit the brakes? And when do you pull to the side of the road? It takes assessment and re-assessment. You need to have confidence that you are not in a job to make friends or be popular, yet you will not have success without applying your humanity. The company counts on you to get things done and your reputation depends on making progress. You must go fast and you must go slow. There will be a hardness to your work and, in order to have a long career, softness must come through in how you care for people. The extremes of being too hard or too soft are pitfalls. So how do you tell if you are doing too much or too little?

Here are some suggested questions to ask yourself when handling a rough situation where you suspect a personal issue is causing problems for a team member at work:

  • What has the employee’s performance been over the past 18 months?
  • What do they do well, specifically better than others on the team?
  • Where are they not meeting standards?
  • Are the standards clearly communicated?
  • Do you know why they are not meeting standards?
  • Has a referral been made to your Employee Assistance Program (for counseling or other professional support)?
  • Is this person using their vacation time and do you encourage that behavior regularly?
  • What have you done to show concern and support for this person?
  • Is there a temporary change to their work you could make so they can be successful, or is a larger change needed?
  • Are you making the best choice(s) for the company in the long term?
  • Are your decision(s) supportive of the health and wellbeing of the employee?

Wondering if you are being too hard or too soft on people is a common thought that leaders will wrestle with. To support ease with decision making, and ultimately letting “work stay at work”, it is recommended that you have practices to help you accept the present set of circumstances and actively avoid chronic stress. For many people a key practice is exercise. For some, it is making art, writing, or breathwork. Be sure to recognize the signs that a situation is triggering you and seek out ways to counter it, such as seeking social support. Many leaders may also realize that they too can benefit from resources such as Employee Assistance Program counseling and should not hesitate to participate as well. Leaders who are active with their wellbeing practices make excellent advocates for themselves and others, improving the workplace environment. The more you can balance progress with care for others, the better asset you will be in any leadership role.

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.