Swinging the Sword

Eddard Stark famously said, “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.” It’s often one of the worst parts of the job, yet I believe it is imperative for any self-respecting leader. You might be surprised to realize that there are a bunch of scenarios where you might be (unawares?) passing the buck. Making this a principle of your personal leadership modus operandi will genuinely help you become a leader with more integrity and impact.

“They” Said So

Let’s start with a subtle way of evading responsibility, which you might not even realize as such. How often do you find yourself providing someone with indirect feedback? That’s when you don’t take ownership of what you say but act as a messenger. Yes, sometimes that’s necessary, for example, when trying to mediate between two people. However, I’ve seen many leaders who do this regularly. Whenever possible, they convey feedback with language that makes it seem like they don’t necessarily agree or are being forced to say things.

These attempts to distance yourself from feedback you’ve deemed important enough to voice are very harmful. First, it is like a glovebox—you cannot directly handle the matter at hand. Second, you are being dishonest, and over time, such behavior becomes ingrained, and you will find it extremely hard to speak directly. Impact-dense conversations require high candor, not beating around the bush.

Using Proxies

Sometimes, you might allow yourself to really easily be convinced not to do things yourself. For example, a client recently had to let go of someone in a different country. Initially, the plan was to have his peer in that country deliver the news because the company said, “We do these things personally here.” Even though that didn’t really make sense for my client, he acquiesced at first. After all, it’s easy to allow someone else to take over for something you don’t want to do anyway.

Nevertheless, that’s again an example of shy leadership you will regret later. In that particular case, I asked him why it was ok to hire, onboard, and manage this person remotely for months but delivering bad news required being in the same room with someone that’s not even managing them. When you feel like someone else is doing the dirty work for you, you should stop and reconsider your plans.

Letting Mommy or Daddy Help You

This other case is similar in that someone else is doing the work for you, but it’s sometimes done because your own manager is overly protective of you. I understand founders who feel responsible for every employee in their company and therefore prefer to be involved. Yet, if you made the decision, you should deliver the news. Otherwise, you’ll harm your image as a leader and erode your organizational trust.

Sometimes one has to put on their big-kid pants and do the unpleasant stuff, too. You cannot only be a leader during the fun parts.