Why Making the Harder Choice Is the Right Choice
As the Rwandan genocide raged in the spring of 1994, Paul Rusesabagina, assistant general manager of the Hotel des Mill Collines, sheltered over 1,200 refugees from a genocide that claimed between 500,000 and 1 million Tutsi lives.
During World War II, oil executive Berthold Beitz directly saved over 800 Jews from the Holocaust through employment, hiding places, forged papers, and the strategic exertion of influence over a local SS Officer.
Last week, I attended Pennsylvania’s 34th Annual Civic Commemoration of the Holocaust and was forcefully reminded that when faced with a difficult decision, the harder choice is almost always the correct choice. Unlike Rusesabagina and Beitz, you will probably never find yourself in a situation where doing the right thing could get you killed. However, life is an unending series of smaller choices and decisions that add up and have consequences—the sum total of which determines whether or not you’ve done the right thing.
But how can you know what “the right thing” is all of the time?
Some leaders look to their religious faith as their guiding star while others follow a secular morality. Within business, leaders often make decisions based on their organization’s mission, vision, values, and culture. But where does rubber meet the proverbial road? Although it’s relatively easy to take a moral position in an abstract situation, what about the world that you live and work in?
- What action would you take if you learned that your most important customer donates all of their profits to an organization that advocates for the violent overthrow of the U.S. government?
- How would you react if you discovered that your most valued and critical supplier uses child labor as a significant part of its operations?
- What if you learned that your most trusted senior manager, who is a model employee and has a unique and critical skill set, is the leader of a local hate group?
You might be thinking that making the call in these scenarios would be crystal clear. But in some situations, it’s far more difficult to know what the right choice will be.
When that happens, do those whom you lead see how you grapple with making the hard decisions and that you always strive to do the right thing?
When he was in his 80s, Beitz was asked about his actions during the Holocaust. He said, “As I look back, I can now say that I did something in my life.”
It’s wonderful when we’re able to feel what Beitz felt, yet the feeling is secondary. Our primary responsibility is to serve as a living example of what “doing the right thing” means under any circumstances.
We all make mistakes. Yet when we make them in service of the harder choice, it’s OK—because that’s what a leader does.
Do the right thing now and download my free eBook, “Leadership in Real Life.” In it, I share several of my own leadership lessons learned and practical tips to help you help yourself become a more effective leader.