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    Organizational Project Management Consultant, using profession as a platform for learning beyond just work. My passion is learning more about self, people, universe, and God.
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Is a Merciful Manager a Weak Manager?

Posted by Ammar Mango on June 7, 2012

At the beginning of my career as a manager, I was very worried about being too soft.  I complained to my mentor about my feelings.  I told him that I have emotions when I make decisions that affect employees.  I try to suppress these feelings because I feel that they are a weakness.  I was taught that managers should be tough, strong, and not let emotions get in the way of good judgment.

Today, I see many managers struggling with the same situation of feeling bad about some tough unpopular decisions they had to make.  This is an important issue to ponder, as managers face triple jeopardy when dealing with tough decisions related to employees, like firing and reprimanding.

First, they have to deal with the external resistance from the employees who might have negative feelings towards the manager because of his seemingly “evil” decision.  The second is their own feelings of guilt and uncertainty about the decision they took and feeling pitty towards the team members affected.  The third is feeling guilty about feeling guilty.  I know it is funny but it is true.  Feeling guilty about feeling guilty is a major source of stress for today’s managers.  The problem with this third level is that it is complex and it prevents one from dealing the first two levels of negative emotions the manager is feeling.

So, how to deal with this situation? first off we need to understand why this whole guilt trip happens.  I believe one of the main causes is an underlying misconception that having mercy is a weakness and the same as being soft; it is not.  A soft manager is one who cannot take important but tough decisions for fear of becoming unpopular.  This is totally different than having feelings related to the effects of the decisions you make.  Being soft is bad.  Having mercy is good.  One should love self for being merciful.  Mercy is not a sign of weakness.  Far from it.  It is in fact a sign of strength and a beautiful trait.  God is almighty and yet is the most merciful.  So Mercy cannot be a sign of weakness.

As managers, we need to change our attitude towards our feelings and emotions.  They are a good thing not a bad thing and can be a strength.  If you take a decision like firing an employee, and you feel sorry for the employee about it, it is because you know that your decision is tough on him, but you also know that you took your decision based on what you feel is right.  So, you are both responsible, strong and capable of making tough decisions, and at the same time have mercy on others which is a beautiful human trait.  Allow your self to feel that mercy.  Welcome it, embrace it, and smile at it, instead of resenting the feelings and dismissing them.

Back to the story I started this post with.  When I told my mentor about my concerns of being affected by my emotions after a tough decision, he was very happy and assured me that it is a sign of good character.  He taught me not to fight the feeling but to welcome it and accept and welcome my humanity.  However,  I still have to deal with these feelings whenever I take tough decisions.

In today’s day and age we need more merciful managers, not merciless managers.  I believe the merciless are behind the selfish decisions taken by many managers worlwide, some of which led to the economic crisis and business corruption the world is facing today.

So, if you are one of the lucky ones who have feelings towards people, then congratulations. You own one of the most important traits that leaders should have; Mercy.


2 Responses to “Is a Merciful Manager a Weak Manager?”

  1. gcbenison said

    This is a great post about what must be one of the hardest things about being a manager.

    I have to say, I wouldn’t want my manager living with a decision they didn’t agree with, or not telling me a piece of important (but unpleasant) information, out of a sense of “mercy”. That just seems like a recipe for miscommunication and resentment.

    Here is where I think mercy comes in: it is human nature to not want bad things to happen to people who don’t deserve it. It is actually easier to see someone else in distress if we think poorly of them. (Is that destitute man on the corner a victim of the sharp end of our economic system, a tragedy of modern times? Or is he a lazy bum who’d rather beg and drink than work? Which thought is more distressing?)

    So I think for that reason people often feel the need to vilify the recipient of bad news, and being merciful means learning how to not do this. It means being direct without being vindictive: “we need your department to meet some ambitious new efficiency goals in six months if it is going to remain a viable unit” instead of “if you don’t get things in shape around here, your whole lazy department is out on the street”. It means criticizing without attacking: “This presentation needs a lot more work before it is ready” instead of “this is just another example of your shoddy work.”

    • ammarmango said

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. You raise excellent and valid points. It is misleading and dangerous when manager does not clearly and promptly explain his real assessment of work or performance. Mercy comes into play when letting yourself feel sorry for someone you had to reprimand or fire. So, you do what is right, but it is ok to do the right thing and have a heart, so to speak. Please visit again.

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