Nobody wants to disappoint someone or hurt their feelings, but continually making exceptions to the rule, lowering standards, and not enforcing boundaries is not helping that person you’re leading.
I once knew a leader who had a soft spot for someone on their team. This team member had been through a lot personally in the past, and knowing her backstory, the leader kept cutting breaks for her, lowering the bar on sales challenges, making excuses for her, giving her special treatment, and including her in rewards she hadn’t legitimately earned.
Instead of rising to the challenge and hitting her goals, this team member began making excuses, blame shifting, and even developed a condescending attitude toward other team members.
It created friction within the team and demoralized those who were working their tails off to give their best.
The net effect was low team morale, friction and disunity, less respect for the leader, and overall lower net results on production and goals.
From a distance, the outcomes of how this leader dealt with the team member may seem predictable, but when you’re the leader, face to face with “hurting” someone when they crash into a boundary or consequence, it’s not that simple.
We dread having to be the big meanie, and therein lies part of our problem, because we don’t understand the difference between hurt and harm.
The last thing we want to do is cause pain to another, but what if our attempts to not hurt the other person’s feelings is robbing the person of the strength gained in the struggle, or the sense of pride and confidence gained by rising to the challenge, or the wisdom and subsequent growth acquired from coming face to face with one’s own shortcomings?
What if our attempts to not offend or hurt someone’s feelings is crippling them in the bigger picture?
Sometimes the kindest, most supportive and empowering thing we can do for another is to say, “no”, to enforce the boundary and allow natural consequences to occur.
Of course, as a parent, boss, or leader, you want to be understanding and supportive. As a Christ-follower you want to model Him and extend grace to others.
There’s a time and place for that, and it makes God smile when we are Christ-like in the way we deal with others, but we tend to quickly get out of balance and skew this into behavior that relieves our own discomfort with the issue rather doing what’s necessary to draw out the best in the other person.
When we have difficulty enforcing healthy and appropriate limits, or consequences, there’s a high probability we’re avoiding facing our own pain and fear.
- Fear of the other person’s anger toward us
- Fear of abandonment
- Fear of rejection and an overriding need to be liked and approved of by everyone
- Misunderstanding of what being Christlike looks like in practical application
If you truly care about the other person, you’ll do what’s in their best interest…which may mean allowing them to fail, telling them “no”, or letting them wrestle through it.
Not doing so is crippling them by thwarting their learning curve and getting in God’s way.
We can be gracious in the manner that we set and enforce limits and consequences, but they need to be enforced.
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
Eph 4:15 (NIV)
There are key times when we must set a limit, even if it hurts their feelings, and other times when we extend grace and give them another chance. Wisdom knows the difference and can discern whether an action is uplifting and encouraging or stunting growth and fueling poor character.
Sometimes the kindest, wisest, and the most empowering thing we can do for a person is to allow them to struggle while remaining supportive. In doing so, we are communicating to them, “I know this is hard right now, but I believe you’ve got what it takes.”