Being a leader in any context can be difficult and challenging to say the least. There are often extreme highs and extreme lows. Misunderstanding and criticism go with the responsibility. It was former president Harry S Truman who famously said “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,”referring to being a leader. Eric Geiger, lead pastor of Mariner’s Church close to where I live in Southern California shares some interesting perspective between painful and difficult in leadership.

Originally published by Eric Geiger

Just because a decision is painful does not mean that the decision is difficult.

  • A person on your team displays a lack of moral integrity. Indeed, it will indeed be painful to act and remove the person from the team, but the decision is not difficult. It is clear.
  • Someone you work alongside consistently displays a negative attitude that harms the joy of the team. A confrontational conversation will likely be painful but deciding if it is best to have the conversation is not difficult. You know it is best and necessary.
  • The person you work for has a blind spot that you are convinced is hurting your effectiveness, their effectiveness, and the organization’s effectiveness. Bringing up the issue in a private meeting with your leader could be painful but it should not be difficult.
  • A person who is on the team you lead continues to drop some balls in communication or execution. Leaders know that the longer a problem is left unaddressed, the larger the problem tends to grow. Offering correction will be painful, as you don’t want to hurt the person’s morale. Or perhaps you struggle confronting, and even the thought of confronting is painful. But whether to address or not address the situation is not difficult as you know you need to have the conversation.

Yes, all of those conversations and decisions may be painful. But the decision to have them, as a general rule, is not difficult. It is the right thing, the wise thing, the prudent thing. Here are three reasons why it is paramount to not equate “painful” and “difficult” when making decisions as a leader.

  • If you equate “painful” with “difficult,” you run the risk of delaying a decision because you love comfort. You can fool yourself into thinking a decision or conversation can be delayed because it is “difficult” and challenging when in reality it is only “painful.” The decision is clear but you delay because it is painful.
  • If you equate “painful” with “difficult,” you risk over-thinking and over-evaluating what is simple and obvious. When you spend too much emotional and mental energy on what is already obvious, you have less energy to deploy towards the truly difficult challenges.
  • If you equate “painful” with “difficult,” you lose credibility as a leader. When others know the right decision, because it is supremely clear, and you fail to act because it is “painful,” you lose credibility.

Some leadership theorists say leadership is about change. Others say leadership is about solving problems. Either view means leadership will include painful seasons because solving problems and leading change will inevitably, at times, mean painful decisions and painful communication with people we love. Often those decisions and those conversations are clear and simple (not difficult), but that does not mean they are not painful.