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Leadership Matters-Len Bernat[su_dropcap style=”flat”]I[/su_dropcap] NORMALLY TRY to share positive examples of leadership with you when I write my articles because I want to encourage you to think about leadership as a way to help your employees grow. However, I have found that sometimes, examining leadership failures that should never be repeated can leave a lasting impression. So, I apologize up front because you should be appalled by the true story I am about to share with you.

A county government was faced with a difficult challenge. The economic downturn had greatly reduced revenues and it became evident that it was going to be necessary to execute a reduction in force (RIF). Since there were not many employees getting ready to retire, the reduction was going to require that some employees would have to be laid off. The County Manger, Finance Director, and Human Resources Director began to meet behind closed doors to select the names of the people who would be laid off. No department heads were consulted, cuts would be made “equally” in all departments without considering actual work load, and no one was told that a RIF was being formulated. Once the list of employees to be laid off was completed, the Information Technology Department Head was told that on a specific date and time, the log on information for the 44 employees being released would be disabled so that after they were told, they could not go back to their desks and get on their computers. Invitations were sent to the 44 employees for a special presentation so that when they walked in, they had no idea what they were about to face. Image what it must have been like to suddenly hear that you were being laid off effective immediately and that the unemployment office people were available to help them complete the forms for signing up for unemployment. If a RIF could be handled with less compassion, I do not know how.

It does not matter how difficult the news is, as a leader you have an obligation to keep our employees informed concerning what is going on in the organization. I remember being told I would be laid off from my very first job I had after retiring from the Marine Corps on the day I was closing on the purchase of my new home so I could empathize with employees in the above example. So let me share some good ways that you can keep your employees informed.

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communications-communicate

  • Whenever possible, explain why tasks must be done and how the task relates to the success of a project or the organization’s overall mission. This really does not take an inordinate amount of time but pays such big benefits. Remember, unless it is a life or death situation, your employees should never be treated like children so the answer, “Because I said so,” is never the right answer to their question of “Why?”
  • Assure yourself that immediate subordinates are passing on necessary information. If it is important for you to take the time necessary for you to provide your team leaders information on the “who, what, where, when and how”, then you need to ensure they pass this information on to their team members. So, when you expect the information to be passed down, tell your team leaders that is what you expect them to do. It is really that simple to ensure everyone is kept informed. By keeping everyone up-to-date and fully involved in the process, you will contribute to the success of the project.
  • Be alert to detect the spread of rumors. Rumors can harm your organization and can create problems that affect moral, performance, motivation, and trust. Once you are aware that rumors are being spread, replace the rumors with the truth immediately. Never allow rumors to flourish.
  • Build moral by publicizing information concerning successes in your unit. Post awards earned by the team in a place of prominence so that even visitors can view your successes. If your organization recognizes longevity milestones such as five-years of employment, ten-years of employment, etc., ensure pictures are taken of your employee receiving the award and display it in the break areas for others to see. When you receive letters of thanks from customers or clients, gather your team and read the letter to them and then display it for all to see that your efforts produce positive results. Most importantly, always gather the team together after the completion of a project them and thank them for their dedication and hard work. Let them know you recognize that the success of the organization comes from its most valuable asset – the people.
  • Hold after action meetings with your team after the completion of a project to discuss what went right and what went wrong. Discuss solutions to problems (but do not allow folks to begin blaming each other for problems) and discuss how to capitalize on the successes of a project.
  • Keep your people informed about current decisions affecting their pay, promotion, privileges, and other benefits. These areas have a direct impact on the employee and their family so these are the things that will keep them awake at night. If you want your employees to truly believe that your concern for their welfare is at the forefront of you leadership, then keeping them up-to-date on the decisions being made that affect these areas and your efforts to impact those decisions are critical to their well-being.[/message][su_spacer]

So, let me give you an example of a better way to manage the difficult news of a lay off so you can see how you can turn a negative into a positive. While working at a building supply retail store, the President of the company insisted that we had too many cashiers and demanded I lay off the last cashier hired by the end of the day. I tried to explain to him that the person he was talking about was an outstanding worker and that one of my other cashiers was getting ready to graduate from college and would most likely be leaving which would bring me in line with his desire. He would not listen and I was forced to lay off the cashier that day.

My first action was to begin calling on all the retail establishments around my location. Sure enough, I found a large chain store that was advertising for cashiers so I asked to speak to the person who would be responsible for hiring for the positions. Once I had her on the phone, I explained my problem and asked her if she could help me out by hiring this person I was to lay off that very day – I would send her over to the store within the hour if she would guarantee me that she would hire my cashier. She was amazed that I would do such a thing and promised that the job was hers if she came by that day and filled out the application.

I then asked the cashier to join me in the personnel office and explained to her that we had to cut her position due to downsizing decisions that were a must for the survival of the store. I then was able to tell her that I had arranged for her to be hired at the store across the street so that she would not be hurt by the layoff and that whether she stayed with the new assignment or not, it would help her financially until she decided what would be best for her. I gave her the manager’s name she should ask to see and my business card so the manager would know I was the person sending her. A week later I purposely went to the store just to ensure she was working and happy with her new situation. She was grateful that I took the time to help her and explain to her that all was not lost during a difficult transition in your life.

Be an exemplary leader – communicate with your people – let them know what is going on – make them feel important to the team and to you.

Len Bernat
Len Bernat
LEN is a leader groomed by 20 years of molding and shaping by some of the finest leaders in the United States Marine Corps. Their guidance helped Len realize his full potential as he moved from an enlisted Marine to becoming an Officer of Marines. Len became known for being the leader who could turn any lackluster organization into a strong, functional unit. Upon his retirement, Len worked in several positions before finally starting a second career in governmental procurement. His experience and leadership skills enabled him to be recognized as the 2011 Governmental Procurement Officer of the Year for the Governmental Procurement Association of Georgia and opened doors for him to teach at many of the association’s conferences. Len was also called to the ministry and was ordained at Ashford Memorial Methodist Church in November of 1999. Today, Len is the Pastor of Maxeys Christian Church in Maxeys, Georgia. Len has been married to his wife, Hazel, for 36 years and they have three daughters, three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Grab your copy of Len's new Book – Leadership Matters | Advice From A Career USMC Officer. Using his life experiences as examples, Len takes the eleven principles of leadership and the fourteen traits every leader should possess—which he learned during twenty years in the Marine Corps—and teaches the reader how he was molded and shaped by some of the best leaders the Corps had to offer.
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