Being the ‘bad guy’ doesn’t make you a bad person

One of the things I struggle with as a leader is my good-cop/bad-cop complex. If you were to meet me, you would agree that I was friendly, helpful and great with people. Rarely do I instigate conflict nor participate in any kind of drama. Overall, I come across as pretty nice; however, that is just half of the story. The other half of my nature kicks in when people start to make stupid decisions. In an instant I flip into “bad-cop” mode and tackle the problem head-on not being afraid to say what needs to be said and seek to get to the root of the problem no matter how many uncomfortable conversations that takes.

Because of my boldness and inability to just go-along with a poorly thought out plan, I have many people in my life who think I’m insensitive.  A friend of mine regularly reminds me that I need to keep my thoughts to myself and to be more supportive no matter whether I agree with their plan or not. (I don’t know about you but, for me, keeping quiet when I see red-flags all over a situation is almost impossible.) My belief is “just because everyone is afraid to say something doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be said” and so my pattern is to boldly ask what everyone around me is thinking – out loud.

All of my life I have struggled with accepting this about myself. After many a tough conversation I find myself crying and racked with guilt over things that I have said – not because they were mean but because they were said at all. Many times I end up alienating the person in question from me and find myself asking “am I terrible person? Why can’t I just smile and shut-up?” Time and time again I resolve to bite my tongue and be more easygoing but, as you can imagine, that never works for long.

As I got to thinking about this problem I realized something; despite the backlash my boldness often causes, it is still one of the things I like most about myself.  In a room full of “yes” men, I will stand strong. If someone wants an honest answer, they can count on me to give it to them. No one ever has to guess where I stand and I cannot be bullied into making a bad decision. I do not suck up nor am I fake with people.  What you see (or hear) is what you get and personally, I think those things are great.

For the past few weeks I’ve had this thought rolling around in my head: “being the ‘bad guy’ doesn’t make you a bad person.” It’s great to be tough and bold (just work on being more tactful in your delivery). It’s great to have strong opinions (just don’t be so stubborn that you alienate your team mates). It’s great to expect excellence from everyone around you (but don’t be prideful or arrogant about it). At their root, these “bad-guy” qualities actually make for a stronger organization if they’re wisely channeled.  The best leaders throughout history all share the quality of not being afraid to say what they think when something needs to be said. You’re actually in very good company.

Do you struggle with often having to be the “bad-guy” in your organization? How do you handle it?

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