The Art of Being the ‘Bad Guy’ for Your Team’s Good

Nobody likes to be the ‘bad guy’, but when the time calls for it, someone has to play that role. Let’s be clear, though: being the ‘bad guy’ doesn’t involve being rude, abusive, or unreasonable. These behaviors are unquestionably unacceptable in any context. I’m talking about making tough calls even when they are unpopular, having difficult conversations when it’s uncomfortable, and putting in sacrifices that are unseen yet necessary for the good of the company.

If you’re not willing to offend anyone, you’re probably not truly leading

Winston Churchill famously said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”  One of the keys to being a good leader is the ability to do what’s necessary and right in the face of intense opposition. This skill is severely undervalued but so so important.

The “dirty work of business”

As a leader myself, I am no stranger to the so-called “dirty work of business”. Letting go of underperforming staff, canceling projects that no longer have strategic value, enforcing ethical standards, dealing with challenging stakeholders and more… trust me, I have lots of firsthand experience.

Navigating lose-lose situations

Who likes to do these things? They are thankless tasks! Making tough decisions often opens the door wide to criticism both overt or covert (in your face or behind your back), which constitutes the first “loss”. And when you’re ultimately proven to be right, it’s often assumed to be part of your job anyway (to get things right). Appreciation rarely comes by, let’s not even talk about praise!

The difference between Good and Great leaders

Underneath the hard exterior of any manager, lies a human being who naturally desires to be liked and accepted. We were wired that way. No one wakes up one day and decides “I want to be the bad guy” – at least not any normal person. Still, when you’re in a position of leadership, these personal desires must be set aside for the greater good of the organization.

I am willing to be misunderstood for the greater good

I know I simply cannot make trustworthy, sound decisions if I am preoccupied with who’s going to like it and who isn’t. Ultimately, we must recognize that as leaders, we cannot please everyone. It is an impossible goal. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t hear them out. But rather, having considered the opinions of others, we need to make the best decision objectively, without being influenced by the “heat of the moment”.

Great leaders make tough calls when needed

I have come to accept that not everyone will immediately understand what I do or agree with how I do it. Yet I truly believe that wisdom vindicates itself over time. In times of crisis, people yearn for strong leaders, and it is our duty to rise above external pressures to do just that – lead with integrity. I owe it to my people to do the right thing even when the right thing is not “mainstream”. Ultimately, good decisions stand the test of time, and I trust that the right people will come to understand the bigger picture and enjoy the fruits of those ‘bad guy’ decisions in due time.