Right vs Right

Making decisions is one of the key elements of leadership. When all is said and done, that’s what you get paid to do. While it’s important to have technical skills and an understanding of business needs, the real usefulness of your knowledge lies in terms of helping you make decisions. Your employees create the product, but you decide how they do that.

Not all of those decisions will be easy (if they were, we would not need talented leaders). It’s not always just a matter of looking at two sets of numbers and picking the better one. Many of your decisions have a “values” component to them. When you have to decide between right vs wrong, that’s pretty simple; you choose “right” every time. When it comes to right vs right, however, that’s when things get tricky.

Choosing between two options that both seem right makes for a difficult challenge. You start to realize just how many things go into deciding what’s best for your firm.

Consider the decision to terminate an employee. If a member of your team has been stealing from you while sexually harassing other employees, that’s pretty easy: letting a thief and harasser stay is wrong, firing them is right. But what about laying people off for cost-cutting reasons? If you need to trim the payroll so the company can survive, that seems right. But if an employee whose job is at risk is the sole provider for their family, then keeping them employed seems right, too. What do you do? Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? And if so, how do you decide who constitutes “the many,” and who makes up “the few”? Do you keep the people with families while laying off only those who are single? In some cases there are laws or clearly defined policies that push you toward one option or another, but in many cases, it’s up to you to choose between two or more alternatives that both seem right.

This is where you need not only the ability to lead, but the willingness as well. This is how leaders really earn their pay. Whatever option you choose will be open to question, and you are liable to be criticized no matter which way you decide. You need to be willing to accept that criticism, or you don’t need to be in a leadership position.

It’s important to understand your company’s values and priorities when you’re deciding between right and right. How have you positioned yourself, and what kind of culture do you have? What promises have you made to your employees? How have these decisions been resolved in the past? Do you focus on things that might happen in the long run or things that will definitely happen in the short run? These are the sorts of things you need to internalize as a leader, not something you can figure out on the spur of the moment.

Choosing between right and wrong is easy. Choosing between right and right may give you a headache. But in the end, that’s why you’re here.