One of my coaching clients was struggling with one of the most difficult choices a leader must make. His company was growing quickly and some of his most trusted lieutenants didn’t have the necessary skills to foster exponential growth. The choice was stark: thrive by replacing loyal colleagues who are no longer up to the task or do nothing, risking stagnation and possibly bankruptcy. Though my client knew he had to act, he was loathe to embrace meaningful change.
I was hired to help him find a palatable solution. During an early session, I recounted to him a time, many years before, when I had been confronted by the consequences of one of my toughest managerial decisions. I was the publisher of a leading French-language publishing house. We had purchased the world-wide French-language publishing rights for the original (highly controversial) English version of a “how-to” book on committing suicide. Swayed by the prospect of an international best-seller in francophone markets, I decided to publish the book,
The day the book was launched, all hell brook loose. A young woman, after reading the English edition, had committed suicide. The public outcry was deafening. I made the rounds of the media to explain/defend why we (I) had chosen to publish the French edition of such a controversial and, potentially, dangerous book.
The full impact of my decision came to me a few days later. I was visiting an elderly, beloved aunt and she gently asked me to give her a copy of the book. I had immediate fears of my aunt wanting to end her own live. I was stunned, not knowing what to say. I thought about what to do for a while. I realized, finally, that I had to be consistent in my actions. If I choose to publish the book for all to buy and read, I had the moral responsibility to accept – without second guessing – her wish to read it. The choice was hers to make.
After I had finished my story my client asked me, “James would you make the same choice today?” I was asked this same question a second time in a recent radio interview on difficult choices leaders must make. After a long pause, I answered yes. “I would make the same choice. I truly believe we must be responsible and accountable for our choices. And, we always have a choice in everything that we do.” Inaction, is as much a choice as saying yes or no.
My coaching engagement continued for a while longer until my client finally did choose. He accepted that he was responsible and accountable for his actions, including this one. He chose the status quo. He fully understood the likely outcome…