Do the Right Thing, Even When It Hurts

Nov 28, 2018

By John Baldoni

The challenge of leadership is to do what is right for the organization despite what others may be telling you.

Leaders in every sector face this question regularly when their well-laid plans go awry. Sometimes you need to reverse course. Other times you may need to stay the course. When reconsidering a decision it is important to decide what you did, why you did it, and what will be the consequences of reversing the decision. Toward that end, here are three questions to consider:

1. What is the business case? Consider the reasons for your decisions. If the business case remains valid, then you should stay the course, despite the pain. But if conditions have changed, and you need to bring back laid-off employees or make more capital investments, then it is wise to change course. Coming out of recession is a great time for investing in the business, so it is natural to reconsider hard decisions made in tougher times.

2. Who will benefit from our reversal? Reversing a decision has immediate impact. If there were layoffs, employees come back to work. If worthy projects were postponed, they can be brought forward. Or in people decisions, you may be able to promote someone who was overlooked the first time. Consequences of reversals are not always positive. A delayed layoff may be become imminent; or a person promoted may be demoted if his performance proves subpar.

3. What is the right thing to do? Ethics have a role to play in any decision. Decisions affecting employment affect peoples’ lives profoundly, but employing workers you do not need is not healthy. It drains limited resources and prevents investments in other areas such as facility upgrades, process improvements, and research and development. To pay for what you do not need can harm the entire organization. Doing what is right can cause pain.

Ideally, the organization should benefit from every decision a leader makes, but such a statement must not be used as excuse to overlook mistakes. For example, if an employee was harmed by an abusive boss, or denied a promotion when it had been earned, the company owes that person restitution. The same holds for communities that have been harmed by corporate misdeeds like toxic dumping. The company will pay a price, but it is necessary because it caused the harm.

Doing what is right for the organization must be paramount in any leadership decision. Although the downsizing of employees or franchisees is painful, such moves should be considered carefully.  If the change is in the best interest of the company, senior leadership must act promptly.

Reversing such a decision may benefit a few in the short term, but companies are not in business for today; management must always think of tomorrow. The decisions you make today will affect the company’s ability to compete effectively for many years to come.

You can learn more about making effective decisions at these AMA seminars:
Analytical Thinking, Problem Solving and Decision Making

Managing Chaos: Tools to Set Priorities and Make Decisions Under Pressure

About the Author(s)

John Baldoni is president of Baldoni Consulting LLC, an executive coaching and leadership development firm. He is the author of many books, including Lead with Purpose: Giving Your Organization a Reason to Believe in Itself and his most recent, The Leader's Pocket Guide. For more information, visit: