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Sep 7
The Painful Reality of Being "The Man"

One of my all-time favorite TV commercials was Sprint’s ad for its “Fair and Flexible” calling plan.

In the ad, a top executive says that with Sprint's calling plan, "no one can tell me what to do. It's my little way of sticking it to the man."

The younger executive with him points out: "But you ARE the man. So you're sticking it to yourself?” 

“Maybe,” he replies.

Of course you have to see it to get the humor, but it works for me. Still, it brings up a very important point: What are the responsibilities when you’re “the Man (or Woman)?”

Recently I had lunch with the CEO of a huge organization in Southern Illinois and he shared a particular struggle with me.

His organization is being forced to downsize. On his team, he has 23 hotshot young managers who he has to whittle down to just three. 10 have already taken separation bonuses and will be gone within the next six months but the remaining 13 really want to stay with the organization. He’s now forced to make the tough choice of which three to keep. 

We wrestled with the scenario for some time, and each suggestion I made he had already used. He is a brilliant executive with a great heart for people and I could see how difficult it was for him. Ultimately it came down to this last thought from me: 

As the CEO, you’re paid and were selected because you CAN make the tough choices. Because you’re “the Man” it’s going to be up to you to decide which three to keep. You’re just going to have to make the tough call and be done with it.

As I flew home that night I thought about it, trying in my mind to see if there was one more tidbit of advice I could have offered, but there were none. When all is said and done, sometimes you’ll just have to step in and make a tough decision that affects somebody’s well-being and career plans.

So lest you think being “the Man” means you can rest atop the mountain and enjoy the view, think again. When it comes to making big and sometimes painful decisions, you may be the final authority – and hopefully you’ll make the right choice. 

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What happens on the other side when a young manager knows the company is heading downhill? After several initial layoffs at his company, my son, a quality engineer saw that he needed to find the best job possible before he, too, received a pink slip. He kept scouring ads and finally saw a position that required many of his current skills, but was above the position he currently held. He was chosen. He shared with me that many loved the folks at the company, as did he, but he said, "bottom line is that I have a wife and four sons for whom I'm responsible. I feel sorry for the ones that remain because it is much more difficut to find work when you are laid off." Just from this, I see the best plan for workers in such a situation is to be proactive and not wait. Make a problem like this an opportunity!

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