What's Good for the Goose...A Leadership Challenge

leadershipHow does a leader look out for the well-being of each individual in an organization and yet assure the success of the whole venture? It is often seemingly a nearly impossible challenge. "What's good for the goose is good for the gander" is a very old English saying that basically says that what is good or fair for one person is good or fair for the other. While this may be excellent wisdom regarding individuals, it doesn't always work well when viewing the individual versus the whole gaggle of geese. An extreme example is when a predator grabs one goose, the rest of the flock is able to escape to safety. Although it didn't go well for the individual goose the flock was safe.

Turning to people in organizations and communities, the rights, wishes, and well-being of an individual are often in conflict with the rights, wishes and well-being of the larger group. In an apartment complex, for example, the rules and regulations often include limitations on pets. While one resident may want a large, tough dog for protection, other residents may be fearful of dogs, allergic, or object to having the pet nearby. The limits are set for the "quiet enjoyment" of the majority and some individuals will feel unfairly treated.

One of the primary fiduciary responsibilities of the executives running a company is to assure the financial viability of the firm over time. There are a vast number of pieces to that puzzle from sales and pricing decisions to manufacturing strategies, distribution systems, employee compensation and benefit plans and on and on. One certainty is always in the background and that is that "she's-a-come-in" has got to be bigger than "she's-a-go-out" in the financial arena or no one has a job.

This often puts the executive in the difficult dilemma of having to lay off people who have been loyal and hardworking and who have families at home to care for. Even tougher, there are times when an individual is performing poorly and must be let go and they and their family happen to be really in need. While it is one of the most painful decisions an executive has to make, she or he must keep the good of the whole clearly in mind and not just the individual.

Such decisions are what a longtime colleague labels "wicked problems" or problems for which there is no easy or clearly right answer.

Schools constantly have to make choices about curriculum, class assignments, and allowable behavior. The goal is to produce the most value for the most students, given the resources available. That may mean that students who need special education or guidance don't get all they need. While this involves painful choices, it does reflect the challenges of operating a school system as well as can be done for the majority of students.

Government faces the same challenges. The current issue in Congress regarding extending unemployment benefits reflects the conflict between caring for those in need and the necessity to bring overall expenditures in line. My point is not to take sides or engage in the whole question of overall spending priorities, it is to illustrate that in nearly all arenas of leadership including government these types of choices exist 

The difficulty and unpleasantness of these "good for the group or good for the individual" decisions goes with the territory of leadership. A good leader faces the difficulty, analyzes as much as possible, makes the best decision given the facts at hand at the time, and then forgives themselves for inflicting consequences on those who may be hurt in the process.