A Red Line Leaders (And Politicians) Should Never Cross


In my years running retail businesses, I have tried to abide by a red line litmus test that honored my values and was good for business. It is also a red line I have struggled to stay true to as it is a convenient, and easy one, to cross over. The red line is to never achieve a goal, financial or otherwise, on the backs of the very people who get the work done – your employees.

This may seem self-evident and a no brainer but there are examples of it being done every day by otherwise principled people. You see, it works this way; if you are in charge and short on hitting a financial goal, you turn to your employees to take the hit in service of making a number.  You cut workers’ hours (hours they planned on working), ban overtime work, delay pay increases, and/or cut corners with how the work gets done.

Looking back, have I done these things? Yes.

Looking back, am I proud of it? No.

Looking back, I now see how important not crossing this red line is to the health of business and the company’s culture.

Just to be clear, I am not talking about the need to close work facilities or redeploy resources as business needs dictate. These moves, though painful in human terms, are necessary for the survival of business in today’s world. A real-world example of this is GM’s recent announcement to close car plants in the US that produce sedan cars that no one is buying these days. While GM may be guilty of poor planning, they are left with no other alternatives in the short term.  

What I am speaking to are those cases where there are alternatives to achieving a goal that respect employees and are good for the business. Cutting payroll on the backs of employees is an easy and convenient lever to pull but seldomly improves a company’s culture or market success. I suspect this practice also impacts customer satisfaction. As a leader, I hope that you commit to reviewing your current practices to avoid crossing this red line.

Why has this topic become top of my mind recently? From the blog title, I suspect you know.

 Our president and legislators have crossed this red line and it should be criminal. It is certainly immoral, wrong, and pardon the word, despicable.  All sides are pursuing a political outcome exclusively on the back of dedicated government workers. The president has taken ownership for the shutdown (before he didn’t), and legislators, both red and blue, have become complicit. Shame on all of them.

I am angered and discouraged by this and the muted outrage by Americans. We all know that crossing this red line is immoral, reprehensible and wrong. Any respectable business would never consider doing it but, ironically, it is okay for our government to do it.

 My concern for the country is that we have all made it too easy for politicians to punish government employees through our silence.

 I am still hopeful none the less.

Hopeful that public outrage reaches a level that compels politicians to act.

Hopeful that this government shutdown ends soon. And when it does, we legislate an end to this destructive, immoral tactic.

And finally, hopeful that a wave of civility emerges from our distain and distrust for people and ideas unlike our own.

Can I hear you say Hallelujah!