If a student was sent to the office for being disruptive in class, for example, I could count on three people being mad: the student would be mad for getting kicked out of class; the parent would be mad for the student getting disciplined; and the teacher would be mad for the discipline not being stiff enough. It didn’t matter that I had no control over the interaction between the student and the teacher that caused the problem in the first place. As judge and jury, I was the one who would invariably take the heat.
If a parent called to complain about a teacher, the teacher would be mad for feeling unsupported, the parent would be mad for not firing the teacher and my boss would be mad that there was a disgruntled parent and teacher in our building.
I have grown professionally over the years, I believe, in my ability to mediate conflicts. A hugely helpful resource is the all-time classic book by Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People.
And what I have come to find is, that analogy is true for every leadership position. As leaders, our job descriptions necessarily give us the responsibility to make difficult decisions. And as we all know, every decision has people on both sides who will disagree.
Do you remember the old Trident gum commercials? Even dentists couldn’t agree on what kind of gum their patients should chew!
Ultimately the most stressful part of my job—making difficult decisions—is the most liberating. As a leader, I have the ultimate authority to make decisions that I believe are fair and just. It’s not fun getting heated emails or phone calls or reading about yourself in the letters to the editor. But when I put my head on the pillow at night, I sleep well knowing I did the right thing.
Ultimately, a leader must have a set of core values and make decisions based on those core values. Your conscience, not your critics, should determine your course of action. So my message to anybody in a leadership position now or aspiring to be a leader is this: you will never escape criticism, so just do what’s right.