If you have read any of my past articles, you know that I am dedicated to building leaders for the future by sharing stories of my past leadership challenges. My byline, Leadership Matters, is really something about which I deeply care.
However, I have been reading a lot of articles and comments about how leaders need to adjust their style and expectations to ensure their employees are more engaged and that the employees feel good about being part of a team that is led by someone who cares for their welfare. The message being conveyed is that the today’s leaders are not meeting the needs of their people and so employees don’t feel valued.
Are there a lot of bad leaders in the workplace today?
Absolutely; and I write to try and help them grow. But there are equally a lot of bad employees out there who have unrealistic ideas about what it means to “work for someone”. So, at the risk of offending, let me point out some things that I expect from every person I hire so that I work with people who are dependable.
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Your employment is a contract – live up to it. When you were hired, the agreement was very simple. During the interview process, you had an obligation to find out exactly what the requirements were for the job for which you were being hired. When an offer of employment was made, the implied contract is you that would successful accomplish these requirements and in turn, I will pay you the specified amount. If I were to short your check because you were not accomplishing the required tasks, you would scream bloody murder. So, do the job to the best of your ability because if you can’t, for the sake of the organization, I have to let you go before your probationary period ends. It is not cruel, heartless, or unfair. It is because you broke the contract. You are responsible.
How does that affect me? When I worked in retail, I had a lot of college students working for me. I was told by one of the other managers that the biggest problem he had was constantly having to change the work schedule for his departments because the students forgot about requirements for college that required them to be off on certain days. I told him that was easily fixed. I gathered my team together and told them the exact day and time I would publish the schedule for the next week of work. They had until that time to provide me with the dates and times they needed off to accommodate their needs. I let them know that once the schedule was posted, it was final – no changes. As you can guess, right after I posted the very first schedule, one of my team came to tell me he forgot that he needed a specific night off because he had a big test the next day and needed to study. I listened intently and when he was done, I asked, “How does that affect me?” He was shocked. But the point was quickly made that I meant it – the schedule was published and now he would have to work. I never had that problem again. We all have personal lives with demands and I can work around these demands if I am given ample time. But your lack of planning is not my emergency so if I am forced to deny your last-minute request, so be it. You are responsible.
But it really is an emergency! I recently had to take 12 weeks of Family Medical Leave to care for my wife after she had open heart surgery. So, I am very sympathetic concerning a real family emergency and will always accommodate an employee during a valid emergency. But, do not take advantage of my kindness. Your dog, although a valued member of your family, will never rise to the level of being a family emergency. If I find out you used “family emergency” in an inappropriate manner, I will take action to correct your thinking and if you cannot understand why I feel this way, too bad. You are responsible.
But I have been here a long time; you can’t get rid of me. I work in government and too often, I have seen poor performers (people who can no longer do the job because they refuse to adapt to changes, feel they can be rude to citizens because they are government, or a combination of both) allowed to continue in their employment without being held accountable for the failures. In many cases, “do nothing” jobs are actually created with important sounding titles and the problem employee is “promoted” with fanfare to this position (yes, they really do give them a pay raise to keep them from complaining). They get an easy ride to retirement and then, because no one remembers that this was a created position to hide a bad employee, they now have to write a job description for the position to hire a replacement! I will never do this. Live up to the contract as stated earlier or I will begin the process of documenting your poor performance. You will change or you will go but it is on you. You are responsible.
Don’t throw sand! In a perfect world, we would all get along, agree on everything, and always work together in perfect harmony. The reality is we are not living in a perfect world so you may have coworkers who you do not particularly like. When this happens, all too often, the gossip mill begins and seeds of discontent are planted that begin to deteriorate the cooperation that is needed to be successful. You are in my sandbox so do not throw sand at the other kids! Learn to work with people who are different from you but add to the team. Diversity is important if the organization is to succeed because it enables us to see things from different perspectives and to hear different ideas. If you choose to engage in gossip or malicious behavior, corrective action will be coming your way so don’t be surprised. You are responsible.
Learn to tell time. If the work day is to start at 9:00 am, be there so that at 9:00 am, you are actually working and not “on your way in”. If you get an hour for lunch, do not take 65 minutes. If you do not like the fact that I am really this rigid, too bad. If I can get to work on time, you can. It really is that simple and it is your responsibility to respect this requirement that you knew about when you started the job. If you find you are constantly in trouble for this, too bad. You are responsible.
Change is good. If you stay at any job long enough, things will change. Innovations in technology will bring about improved computers that will be designed to make us more efficient. New programs may be implemented. New product lines may be created to keep a competitive edge. So, as hard as it is for human beings to accept change, learn to embrace change and get excited about new ideas. The faster you learn the more value you will create in yourself. But, drag your feet, complain about having to learn something new, become a stumbling block to progress, and you will find yourself on the wrong side of fence. I need people who are always looking to the future with hope and excitement. But if you decide to dig in and refuse to move forward, you will pay the consequences and guess what. You are responsible.
No, I don’t owe you anything. I once had an employee tell me that the home office would never close the store we were in because they owed him his job. Image the look on his face when it was announced that due to poor sales, the store would be closed (employees with an attitude like his were the cause of the poor sales). So remember, no matter how long you have been with the company, no matter how many successes you have had in the past, if the company begins to lose money, corrective action will be taken and if you are no longer productive, you will go. It is not unfair; it is how a business must operate to keep their doors open. So, you have to define yourself as an asset they keep or a liability they let go. But, the bottom line is simple. You are responsible.[/message][su_spacer]
Now, you may be thinking that you would never want to work for me. But, trust me, using the strong leadership principles I have written about while demanding excellence as I outlined above will change lives.
As the coach of our base intramural softball team, I was standing on the softball field directing the practice for our team when I a voice say, “Captain Bernat!” Surely, I must be mistaken; it could not be the voice of a young Marine who worked for me in Hawaii nine years earlier. Why, I had been taken over the coals more times than I could remember for failing to correct his bad judgment. I remembered that this Marine had such a bad drinking problem that I had to get him out of jail one morning. I had ordered him into our alcohol rehabilitation program because he refused to volunteer to go and when I was getting ready to leave Hawaii, he let me know that his first act once I was gone was to convince his new boss to let him stop going to rehabilitation. I was sure that by now, the Corps had sent him home with no regrets. It just could not be him; but it was and now he was a Staff Sergeant.
“What are you still doing in my Marine Corps?” I yelled as he smiled and rendered the appropriate salute. He asked to speak with me privately and here is what he told me.
“Sir, after you left Hawaii, I was really going to try to get out of alcohol rehab. As I started to work on my speech to convince the new guy to let me quit, I began to think about all you had done for me. You were the only person in my whole life to hold me accountable for my actions. You and only you reminded me every time not to complain because I was responsible for my actions. But you stood by me and got your butt chewed because you said you saw something in me what was worth fighting for. No one had ever done that for me. The more I thought about it, the more I knew I just could not let you down. So, I stayed in the program, stopped drinking all together and began to really apply myself. When I found out you were here and I was ready to receive orders, I asked to be assigned to this unit so I could let you know that everything you did was worth it. Thanks for believing in me and making me grow up, Sir.”