I first started managing and supervising people when I was 17 years old…. working at Fred Meyer, a local grocery store. For the next 37 years, every role I had put me in charge of managing people. With those people came the responsibility of setting direction for the team. For ever direction I set, I had to make decisions.
I was lucky enough, early in my career, to work for a man who taught me many lessons – lessons in management, leadership, strategy, and how to not take myself to seriously. His name was Frank Alvarez, and I was privileged to work for him, over the life of my career, longer than any other manager. My blog today is focused on the first big lesson I learned from Frank…. Never make a decision that you would not want shared in a public forum…. even if you could guarantee it would never be made public.
So why does this matter? What difference does it make what you decide (for yourself or your team) if you know it can be kept secret? Why not cut corners, opt for the easy out or stack the cards in your favor if you know that you can get away with it? Why take the harder route when the easier route is right there in front of you?
It comes down to something that became a foundation of my career, and something I hoped to always live up to: Ethical Leadership.
At the end of each day, there is only one face in the mirror that looks back at you. It is your face you have to see, your knowledge that you have to reconcile. You may be able to hide information from others, you may be able to keep certain decisions from the light of day, and you will always find them coming home to roost when you see that face in the mirror.
Over the course of those 37 years I made many decisions. Some impacted the livelihood of others. Some prioritized certain efforts while canceling others. I hired people, choosing one out of many. I fired people and “redeployed” them…. OK, what I did was lay them off. I had to make decisions who to reward, who to punish. I had to decide what path we took: Did we do it the easy way, or did we do it the right way? Did I want my work to “Look good” or “Be good”. I had to decide whether to be open with my boss and tell her my team was failing and I needed help. I even had to decide if I should tell my boss I thought he was full of crap.
Each time I felt I was faced with the ‘impossible’ decision, when I was lured to do what what ‘politically correct’, what would look best on my resume, or would be the easiest thing to do I would hear Frank’s words in my head. I would ask myself: “If I make this decision, chose this path, can I stand up in front of a group of my co-workers, my friends or my family, and explain why I made this decision.” My body would always tell me before my heart and mind could process it. If my back tensed up, my jaw clenched and my arms folded, I knew I had my defenses up and that meant rather than being able to explain my decision I was feeling compelled to defend it. If I felt relaxed, felt my chest open up and my breathing ease as I envisioned standing in front of those people I knew I had made the choice I could live with.
So as leaders, as managers, as spouses, as friends…. when faced with those impossible decisions, I invite you to take a moment to consider your options, to search inside you for what you are compelled to do, what is fair and ethical, what you are able to explain. Listen with all of who you are… your intellect, your emotion, your body and your spirit. This is not about making the “right” decision, its about making the decision that you feel compelled to make. In life there are few, if any, “perfect decisions”. At the end of the day, there will always be one face in the mirror looking back at you, one person who is accountable for the decisions you make, one person who will always know the decision you made and why you made it.
Be willing to look that one person in the eye, knowing that for that one person – You – every decision is made in the public forum.