I once had to have a conversation with a colleague of mine. Technically, he reported to me. But we had been friends for many years. I’ve been to his house and he’s been to mine many times. I had to explain to him about some changes we had to make to his salary and bonus structure. These changes represented a significant reduction for him. My news didn’t sit well with him.
Over the years, whenever we had any types of cutbacks with our staff, he had fervently quoted the famous Godfather line. “It’s not personal, it’s business.” Like church and state, it’s convenient to separate, as if we can have separate sets of priorities. It helps us avoid mixing business with personal feelings. It helps us rationalize an “every man for himself” mentality.
When I had the discussion with him, he immediately made it personal with me. He told me that he couldn’t afford to take a pay cut. He said he had become accustomed to a lifestyle and deserved to continue getting his current salary. “How could you do this to me?” he asked me.
It’s always personal
I thought about all the times he coarsely stated that our previous layoffs and salary cutbacks weren’t personal. They were business decisions. I wanted to say the same to him in this situation, but I didn’t. I knew in all of the previous situations that he was wrong.
I wrote in a previous blog, The Meaning of Your Work, about the effects we have on others. We all have our job to do and our business to run. And, we can’t forget to be profitable. But we have to stop and realize that we hire human beings. They have families to feed, children to send to college, and medical bills to pay.
We all have a legacy
Each of us has an effect on every person with which we interact. When we hire someone, we create a relationship. A relationship not just with that person, but with their family whom we may not ever meet. We have a responsibility to mentor them and help them develop as workers and as people.
I have had to inform people that their job has been eliminated. I’ve also been told that my job has been eliminated. In each case, I have understood the business reasons for the decision. I have understood the personal ramifications of the decision as well.
Related post: Why Your Legacy Matters
Dealing with the personal
In my conversation with my colleague, I had to look beyond his hypocrisy of rules for others vs. rules for him. I knew that this was a business decision. And I knew that it was personal for him. I knew I had to show some empathy.
This will affect not just his lifestyle. It will affect his ability to send his children to college. It will affect his ability to retire when he wants to. It will probably affect his wife and any financial plans she has. It may even affect the families of people he pays to perform services.
For more information, check out Career Management for Mentors
Some people like to say it’s not personal, it’s business. But it’s always personal in one way or another. A good leader doesn’t lose sight of that. A leader has a fiduciary responsibility to be profitable. But a good leader also has empathy for how his decisions affect the lives of individuals involved.
When have you ever had to mix business with personal feelings?
I welcome your questions and comments.