Leadership Spotlight

The Responsibilities of Command: Doing the Right Thing for the Right Reasons

Stock image of a supervisor talking to his employees around a table.

As a leader, you try to do the right thing for your personnel. You consider your employees’ needs and weigh important information when making organizational decisions. Have your well-intended leadership choices ever backfired? Have you ever done the right thing for the right reasons, yet your decision negatively impacted your personnel, you, or the organization?

Earl is a supervisor in a moderately sized company in the Midwest that recently acquired a smaller business in the South. Upon arriving at the new company, he wanted to remain transparent with its 15 employees because he knew the takeover would cause anxiety and stress. Immediately, Earl scheduled an all-employee meeting to detail organizational plans and answer questions. He responded to inquiries honestly; he put himself in his employees’ position because he also would want to know what the future held for his job.

The new company offered each employee the same position at its Midwest location. However, none of the personnel wanted to move to the Midwest facility, and they took their anger out on Earl. They stopped completing work on time because they no longer cared about a job they would lose anyway. Ultimately, Earl said he made the right decision by communicating honestly with the employees. But, based on their negative reaction and behavior, he wished he had not informed them so far in advance about their location closing.

Earl had the right intentions, but what could he have done better? How do leaders effectively communicate a strategic decision that will negatively impact employees? At a minimum, leaders first must understand their personnel and the environment they work in. With this knowledge, they can craft an effective message regarding organizational changes. Without proper planning, poorly communicating such information may have disastrous results.

Whether in law enforcement or other professions, all leaders make choices that can dramatically affect personnel. Certainly, discussion was warranted in Earl’s case about how the acquisition occurred, what steps management took to protect employees, and which resources the company would provide to personnel who chose not to move. The burden of command often requires broad shoulders to bear the weight of responsibilities, as well as effectively deal with myriad emotions in times of change. Leaders must listen to personnel, keep an open mind, and handle situations with integrity and compassion. Undoubtedly, they must communicate critical information to employees, even at the risk of reduced productivity and morale. Without mutual trust and respect between leaders and personnel, any organization will suffer.

Sometimes well-intended leadership decisions backfire. However, when effective leaders take time to gather information and evaluate all options, the chance of negative results usually decreases. At the end of the day, leaders have to live with their conscience and know they did the right thing for the right reasons.

Dr. Cynthia L. Lewis, an instructor in the Leadership and Communications Unit at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight.