When Faced With a Tough Task, You Need to Do Your F-ing Job
From The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky, published by Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2018 by Scott Belsky.
Every journey has heavy, all-consuming moments. Firing employees. Solving a PR crisis. Weathering legal battles. On such occasions, you'll struggle to push through the muck. You'll fret the aftermath of confrontation. You won't want to upset people, especially those who may be left without jobs because of your decisions. You'll find every reason to analyze further, delay action and blunt the blow. But, most of the time, the right answer is clear, and the next step is yours.
You need to do your fucking job.
Related: 50 Rules for Being a Great Leader
This is what I would tell myself before going into a tough meeting, nail-biting negotiation or making the decision to fire an employee. Whenever I needed to force myself to take action that would be painful in the short term but was for the greater good, I would whisper to myself, "Scott, do your fucking job."
Don't blame yourself for feeling skittish. Avoiding conflict and hesitating before you disappoint others is not a weakness, it is having a conscience. Relationships matter, and the cost of upheaval in any relationship or team culture is very real. But, just as a common cold can become full-blown pneumonia if left unchecked, infections in a team grow when not addressed. Your job is to detect infection, determine whether it is viral and nip it in the bud if it is.
Leading a team through enduring times requires many "rip off the Band-Aid" moments. Nobody wants to inflict pain on their team, but quick and controlled pain is better than a drawn-out infection. If the cost of waiting exceeds the benefits of acting now, you have a job to do -- DYFJ!
In the middle of 2017, the co-founder and CEO of a fast-growing startup in the social video space reached out to me for some help. We had met only once or twice and I was not an investor in his company at the time, but he asked if we could talk. We met at a small coffee shop in New York City's Soho neighborhood to discuss his dilemma. A senior member of his team had been accused of inappropriate behavior from some of his subordinates and a short investigation had confirmed it. His board members were urging him to hold off on any "rash" decisions because of an imminent round of financing and the company's recent traction. But that didn't feel right to him. He was struggling between what he knew, in his gut, he must do, and all the noise from investors and the usual anxieties that accompany decisions that cause a lot of turbulence. As we talked through the costs and benefits of waiting and how to start these conversations, it occurred to me that he didn't need any more rationale to fire the person. Rather than continue thinking about the repercussions and his discomfort with the decision he already knew was right, he had to just do it. He came to this conclusion on his own, and as we parted ways, I said, DYFJ, and he nodded. Perhaps all he needed was a reminder that some critical tasks -- often the most difficult ones -- will not be taken until the leader summons the courage to stop considering it and just does it.
During the most trying times, you may also struggle to remain composed and continue carrying the torch. While members of your team will express doubt and air their hopeless moments, you will need to keep the pace by keeping the faith.
One of the entrepreneurs I have admired over the years is Kegan Schouwenburg. After some time working at Shapeways, a 3D printing company, Kegan set out to found her own business designing custom orthotics. Her company, SOLS, was on a rough ride: Kegan had to fire a co-founder, shift the business's focus multiple times and land subsequent rounds of funding at a time when it was hard to raise money for hardware startups. While her business was ultimately sold, which wasn't the outcome she had hoped for, I was especially struck by her persistence and positivity along the way. Reflecting on some of her most challenging periods in the business, Kegan recalled, "One of our ex-employees told me in passing recently that I used to sing under my breath, 'Just keep going.' Honestly, I think that is most of it. You just have to show up and be there because your team depends on you. When you've got your entire staff looking to you for leadership, listening to your language, and even your body language to give them a sense of confidence in what you're doing as a company, that responsibility really gives you the energy to power through the uncertainty."
"It's amazing what you can achieve if you refuse to be discouraged, refuse to let down your team, and you check your ego at the door," Kegan added. Indeed, the possibilities are endless if you just keep going and, at your most difficult and trying moments, push yourself to do your fucking job.