As I have sat and listened to the news over the past few weeks, I have tried to put myself in the shoes of the politicians in Washington as they worked toward resolving the “fiscal cliff” crisis. Everyday they have had to listen to a number of opinions from a variety of sources – ranging from the constituents they serve in their districts, to the lobbiests who want them to support their interests, to their peers within and outside of their parties who want their side to win the political battle. These politicians are also punching bags for the media who enjoy passing judgment without a lot of facts or data to support their claims.
There is not a lot of glory in a job like this. To me, the stress and pressure would almost seem unbearable at times, especially for a new congressman who was elected by a constituency whose political ideals lean either to the far right or far left. For him/her, there is not a lot of room for compromise because if he/she votes the wrong way, then that person risks not getting re-elected or losing a leadership position on a committee or in the case of John Boehner, his seat as Speaker of the House.
When one is tasked with making a decision like this, which in this case could affect the financial well-being of millions of people, one often times has to ask what is best for the good of the group versus what is best for the good of the few – even if that means going against your own principles and those of the people that you represent.
As I watched this situation unfold, I thought about times where I had to make similar decisions and the thought process involved with making that choice. I have faced situations where I have had to terminate popular employees despite objections from those that worked for me and with me. I have also faced situations where I have had to tell people we can’t or won’t do the project that they want to do because of the cost involved or because it does not fit well with the long term goal of the facility – even my boss.
The key to helping people understand my thoughts and reasoning behind my decision-making process is communication. I have found that if you sit down with that person or group and explain the rationale behind the final decision, the majority will understand and support you even if the decision is still not popular. You will always have a few naysayers, but in the end, these folks understand that the decision you made is best for the group.
Do I do this perfectly everytime? No way. I probably do the worst job in these situations when dealing with family – especially my children. I can also be a little hard-headed at my plant too. There have been a few occasions where I have played the “because I said so” card. This not the ideal way to handle a situation, but sometimes it happens. Unfortunately, I have also played the “no decision” card too and passed the buck on to someone else because I didn’t necessarily want to deal with the fallout associated with the decision.
So, on Monday night the Senate eventually reached a compromise and made a number of unpopular decisions – taxes increased on the rich, the 2% Social Security payroll tax holiday was not extended, and the across the board spending cuts were averted for a couple of months. Over the next couple of months, we will continue to hear more and more about the inner-workings around how the compromise was reached that night, and we will probably find out that a number of leaders decided to risk their political futures in their respective states by making touch decisions because doing nothing and passing the buck was not an option.
That’s what leaders do. Even if that means you have to deal with the backlash for a period of time.