Avoid pushing the red button at all costs. But if you must, realize that there is no turning back.

Every leader has an entire control board of buttons at their disposal. But not all buttons are wise to push without good reason. For the President of the United States, it might be the “nuclear” button. For most people on social media, it can be the “publish” button. And for you, as a leader, that button is the “ultimatum.”

An ultimatum is a tool of last resort. If you have used every tool at your disposal, if you’ve done everything possible to guide, mentor, and motivate a member of your team to do something and they still haven’t gotten the message, then it’s time to make an ultimatum.

An ultimatum is necessary when enough is enough.

Picture an ultimatum as more of a railroad than a highway. There is no changing lanes. There is no room for nuance or maneuver. They provide no space for compromise, nor a table for discussion. Ultimatums are simply do, or do not.

“Either A happens by this time, or B will the consequence.”

When making an ultimatum, you must make it crystal clear what you expect of your subordinate, and make even clearer the consequences if your expectations are not met.

The ultimatum is your red button because it signals that you are out of options. If a subordinate senses this, they will know that it is time to make a choice—either get back on track, or get off the tracks altogether.

But be careful. If you do not follow through with your explicitly outlined consequences, you will lose all credibility. You will be seen as a weak leader. You will become a shark without teeth.

I tend to utilize a more collaborative style of leadership, which makes use of relationship-building, trust, listening, and respect. I believe that you will get the most out of your team through positive means, and that an effective leadership style is anti-dictatorial. But there are rare times when a leader must move in that direction.

Ultimatums are a harsh approach to enforcing your standards. You cannot make a habit of pushing this button if you expect long-term trust and cooperation from your team.

Before you ever think about pushing that button, you must look yourself in the mirror and examine where you failed. And if your leadership passes the mirror test, and when enough is enough, you must lay down the law.

The ultimatum is the tool of last resort. It is a zero sum game. The subordinate either changes their ways, or you discipline them. If neither happens, you have ceased to be an effective leader.

Avoid pushing the red button at all costs. But if you must, realize that there is no turning back.

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