The cursor is hovering over the send button. I’ve re-read the e-mail about 4 times, tweaking it here and there, trying to make it sound less judgmental and more friendly. How do you write a friendly “your services are no longer needed” e-mail?
After a frustrating few months of way too many delays, lack of phone calls to warn us of delays, poor communication, etc., I find I need to end a working relationship with a graphic designer. He does good work, but unfortunately, he is completely unreliable. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a project that he promised to finish before I left for Toronto, and I never saw a thing or heard from him about why it wasn’t ready.
I hate ending relationships, even when they’re working relationships which shouldn’t really impact me personally. But sometimes it needs to be done. I’ve let this one go on for too long already. Now I just have to work up the courage to hit the send button.
As I was flying back from Toronto, after a somewhat disappointing meeting with my national staff, it occurred to me that part of my problem – part of the reason why I’m less effective as a leader than I could be – is that I lack boldness. Like the cowardly lion in the wizard of oz, I need more courage.
It’s true. I know how to ACT courageous, by jumping out of airplanes and such, but more often than not, deep down, I’m a coward at heart. I cower from confrontation, I accept mediocrity from my staff because I’m afraid to challenge them, I let little conflicts simmer beneath the surface during team meetings because I’d rather not drag them out into the open, I don’t challenge my boss even though I’m sure there are some bold moves he’s avoiding which could make this a more effective organization, I don’t produce my best work for fear that it might not be accepted, and I allow the status quo to rule me because pushing the boundaries would be too uncomfortable.
A couple of things happened last week that revealed my lack of courage. One of them was the staff meeting, where mediocrity was the rule of the day because I failed to challenge the team or force them to confront their own resentments and reluctances. Another was an opportunity I let slip by because I was afraid of the consequences of taking action. Someone I know and respect wrote an article in a journal that questioned some of the things that we do as an international development organization. I sent him a personal e-mail, supporting what he said and expressing my heart. He wrote back and suggested that I send a letter to the editor of the journal as a response from me personally and the organization I represent, suggesting that he might be at least somewhat right in his critique. I declined his suggestion, because doing so would raise the ire of not only my boss but some of our major supporters. I had good reason for not doing it, but when I searched my heart, I knew that part of my reason was fear. I didn’t want to risk losing my job and ticking off the big donors. I shrunk away like the cowardly lion.
On Friday, riding the bus home from work, I almost burst into tears when it occurred to me that perhaps I am limiting my own potential and that of my organization’s by letting fear hold me back. If I were bolder, I’d stand up for what I believe in. If I were bolder, I’d challenge mediocrity.
Somehow, I need to find the boldness in me to confront my fears and speak up when things are not right. I’m starting with small steps. The first one will be to hit the send button. (Perhaps if I were truly courageous, I’d pick up the phone instead, but I’ll let myself get away with baby steps for now.) Mediocrity is not acceptable in people who provide service to us. I will strive for excellence in the people I hire.
I’m not sure what my future steps will be, but I know that this is something I need to confront in myself. I will confront mediocrity more often when I see it among my staff. I will confront it in myself. I will even try to confront it in my boss and perhaps among our major donors. I don’t want to be the cowardly lion any more.
If I can jump out of an airplane, surely I can be bold enough to slap mediocrity in the face.