“This is eating me alive.  I have to fire one-third of my staff.  I love them.  They are all amazing.  How can I possibly choose?” 

This recent conversation was real and raw and likely what many of us are facing right now.  The choices feel impossible.  The team is solid and high performing.  There is no magical bottom ten percent to release – ala GM’s Jack Welch’s famous formula.  We’re now on the three bourbon nights to get through. 

Let’s not sugar coat this.  IT IS TOUGH.  It’s likely to get tougher.  Long term, things WILL get better.  Promise!  Without a crystal ball, it’s hard to say when.  When they do get better, they will be different.  For now, who knows? 

What can we do?   


Lead with compassion, heart, love and clarity.  Leaders bleed yet they still have the heart-breaking conversations and make the difficult decisions that must be made. 

The trick is to make sure to stay connected to our humanity.    


We must remember that we are talking to our trusted tribe and can share feelings as well as information.  Communication must be clear and transparent and heart-felt. A special word about clarity here. When we are fearful or uncomfortable, it can make our communication either harsh or mushy. Be clear and thoughtful and say what needs to be said, with compassion.

It also must be updated regularly.  Everyone is dealing with uncertainty.  Our willingness to communicate and communicate some more creates safety.  Trust that your team can hear what you have to say.  Care-for, don’t care-take. 


Let’s get into a leadership frame of mind – the transformational kind of leadership that marries head and heart.  We must make the tough decisions without hardening our hearts.  Pay attention to Emotional Intelligence.  We are all going to have emotions and – guess what?  Other people will have emotions also.  Leaders stay aware and choose to manage emotional response and invest in the relationship by listening, communicating clearly, offering compassion so that others might make better emotional choices, too. 


Get real and level set.  Remember the Stockdale Paradox, made famous by Jim Collin’s book, From Good to Great, “Face the most brutal facts of our current reality and retain faith that we will prevail in the endgame”.  This is called HOPE.  Facing the truth that rules have changed, the future is unclear, and tough decisions must be made, we retain the hope that the new reality will be different or better and we must keep an eye on the prize.  False positivity will be felt a mile away.  Stay in HOPE, not platitudes. 


Our teams are counting on our steady, honest leadership. The spotlight is turned on.  

Sometimes being vulnerable is so heart-breakingly hard.  The team deserves the most vulnerable part of our leadership.  If we are honest about how we feel and still truthful about the situation or choices, it’s authentic.

Brene Brown says, ”
“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.”

If termination decisions or tough calls about shutting down operations need to be made, be aware that resisting the honest conversation leads to protection, hardening the heart, and girding the loins.  This will make communication wobbly – either too stiff and stern, or wishy-washy and unclear. 

Be honest.  We care for our teams.  Let’s let them know.  Specifically let’s let them know how they’ve added value – personally or professionally.  We can work like all get out to help them visualize hope beyond this, finding resources and support to the best of our abilities.   


When all the conversations are done, CRY.  No really, cry.  Let the emotions out.  It’s strength.  Anytime feelings are stuffed, they always come out as poorer expressions later.  It’s not useful to deny our feelings.  What is useful is to admit them, feel them and then fall into our hearts and find a place to be of service, to appreciate, to express gratitude.   


Final step – self-care is a priority.  Let’s ditch the bourbon for now, and instead stretch, write, pray, journal.  Sometimes when tough choices need to be made, we can feel like the enemy and will cast ourselves (or allow others to) in the villain’s role.  No, we are messengers.  The message must be delivered in love and leadership. That means you must turn some of that love into self-love. 

Begin a new self-care routine with reflection each morning on the leader you are becoming through all this that will get you through the other side. 


We are going to get through this, and it won’t be easy.  I return to the Stockdale Paradox – let’s keep our eyes on the facts (not the hysteria) yet not let those facts sway our steady leadership.  Hope is seeing that what is on the other side will be different and we can prepare right now for what will be new.  Hope says that this trial period will teach us what we need to know. 

Let’s stay awake, aware, connected and in leadership.