Four Rules of 'Tough Love' Leadership

Last Updated Apr 15, 2009 11:37 AM EDT

In recessions, executives must achieve two outcomes that often conflict: to be tough enough to deliver the results, and be tender enough to maintain morale and to keep key staff. Leaders have to play good cop and bad cop at the same time.

Recessions are when managers have to discover the bad cop act and the art of what I call "unreasonable management".

Unreasonable managers are not bullies, who are awkward about everything -- they learn to be difficult selectively. They pick one or two must-win battles.

They set goals which stretch, but do not break people. Critically, they understand how to help their team succeed. They play bad cop in setting goals, good cop in helping teams achieve their objectives.

Here are four principles of the good cop act:

  1. Be clear about the goals and flexible about the means. Don't try to micro-manage everything. Force your team to take responsibility, and then trust people to deliver.
  2. Over-communicate. Once the goals are set, don't spend time planning, reviewing and decision-making. Communicate: listen, encourage, coach and support.
  3. Focus, focus, focus. In crises, everything can seem to go wrong at the same time. Ineffective leaders panic and indulge in a plethora of initiatives which confuse everyone and waste resources (the government, please note). Strong leaders create order out of chaos by focusing on the few things that really matter.
  4. Stay positive. Followers dislike FUD -- fear, uncertainty and doubt. Create clarity, focus on the successes and the future, and don't allow people to indulge in the blame game.
The good cop, bad cop act is not just for recessions: it is for high performance at all times.
  • Jo Owen

    Jo Owen practises what he preaches as a leader. He has worked with over 100 of the best, and a couple of the worst, organisations in the world, has built a business in Japan; started a bank (now HBOS business banking); was a partner at Accenture and brand manager at P&G. He is a serial entrepreneur whose start-ups include top 10 graduate recruiter Teach First and Start Up, which has helped over 250 ex-offenders start their own businesses. He has and has spent seven years researching leadership, strategy and organisation in tribal societies. His books include "Tribal Business School", "How to Lead and How to Manage." He is in demand as a speaker and coach on leadership and change. His websites include Tribal Business School and Leadership Partnership