It's often said that even the most respected leaders are considered by many to be ruthless, even brutal at times. Of course, often when leaders are perceived as merciless, that hard perception belongs to those who did not deserve any mercy.
Great leaders have to be tough and decisive. Often their decisions will displease many, but they can't effectively lead if every decision is the result of democracy or consensus. This is the difficult path for the leader. It's easy to stay popular when you appease everyone, but rarely will that drive a large organization to success. They must make the best decision taking all the needs and wants into account. Ultimately, they have to lead the way or step aside.
Here are five ways a leader must be uncompromising and perhaps ruthless in order to benefit a loyal following. See if you have the strength to be tough when needed.
1. Drive the vision.
Despite the arguments from proponents of flat management, most companies can't move forward without strong vision and a leader ready to move the organization forward despite the risks and stress. Great leaders know when to push or pull the team down the road in order to break the inertia.
2. Protect the team.
Not everyone is a great fit on every team. Well-meaning people can be disruptive and difficult given the wrong set of circumstances. A great leader understands when dysfunction is beyond repair and must make the cut so the team can survive despite individual consequences.
3. Weather the storm
Business can be unpredictable. Just when you think things are calm, something like the financial crisis of 2008 comes along and destroys every bit of safety you built over decades. Great leaders know that this is the time to make decisions that may hurt the few in order to save the many. They must maintain strength at the expense of collateral damage so that all don't perish.
4. Maintain morale.
Great leadership requires strength, structure, stability and decisiveness. When a team is surrounded by chaos, inaction and indecision productivity drops along with morale. Strong leaders know that running a tight ship allows for the team to be more carefree and opens the door for enjoyment and, ultimately, the kind of innovation that breeds genuine excitement making small personal sacrifices of freedom worth the price.
5. Preserve the culture.
Not every team can survive a wide variety of personality traits. Companies that scale tightly define their culture and use it as a tool to weed out those who may cause growth to slow. Great leaders continuously define and refine the culture to reward those who can conform and excel while ruthlessly eliminating those who won't be a fit for the long haul. On the bright side, those people will be free to find an environment where they can thrive and be happy rather than living in frustration and mediocrity.