As a business owner and/or manager, there are times one needs to be—pardon the term—a hard-ass. It comes with the territory.

But this doesn’t always mean being a jerk. How do you avoid that?

  • Set expectations with who you are managing very, very clearly. Don’t rush through this.
  • Talk about what each of you will do if something does not go according to plan. Anticipating what might go wrong is better than simply hoping things will go well.
  • Be specific regarding what “done” means and what deadlines there are for the task.
  • After the project is done and inspected, share publicly what went well, being sure to praise the employee for what he or she did well. Discuss privately what could have gone better.

How can you be a nice hard-ass in the midst of all this?

  • Remove any emotion from the equation. It's just business. Being objective instead of subjective makes it less likely that anyone will become upset.
  • If you notice that you're becoming upset, take a break. Calming down will make it more likely that you won’t regret having done something stupid or hurtful.
  • Focus on the results. How is the work going? What is going well? What, if anything, could be going better? Ask the employee: “What can we do …?” instead of “Why did you …?”
  • Manage each employee with an awareness of their respective preferences for being communicated with. Some folks can take a manager being direct while others need a manager who is a little more gentle and slower-paced. You need to be whatever your employee needs you to be so that the worker can hear you.

How do I know this? It was a constant struggle for me to be the manager I wanted to be instead of who I was naturally. Heightened self-awareness of the fact that I had choices helped me. And I think me going public with our people about my efforts at self-improvement inspired them.
Sometimes you just have to be a hard-ass. Your job is to work on being a nice one!