Taking responsibility for your actions

finger_pointingA coaching client asked me for advice regarding an issue with a team leader that had been using the company credit card for personal expenses. By the time the abuse of the card was discovered, the charge totals were quite sizable. There were repeated warnings when minor personal charges continued to show up on the monthly statements. The company has a “three strikes, you’re out” rule, and this team leader had used them all. My client said, “This leader is really good at aspects of the job, is valued, and an asset to the company overall. What would you do if you were me?”

I felt this owner’s pain with the no-compromise decision he must make. If it were not for the credit card abuse, this team leader would be perfect. But the bottom line is that this was a classic case of theft. Trust was broken. A team leader who was supposed to be a role model for others knowingly and repeatedly violated company policy. More importantly, this type of personal behavior regarding money and spending raises suspicion that funds could be missing elsewhere in the company. My advice was, “You have a three strikes, you’re out rule – not 3.5 strikes. There is only one choice to make here.”

Here are some no-compromise thoughts to help leaders work through these tough decisions:

  • Bad choices have consequences: The owner knew exactly what my response would be. It’s hard to fire an otherwise good employee and it’s never easy to take someone’s job away after a long-standing, working relationship. But this team leader’s choices and actions took his/her own job away. It’s about taking responsibility for one’s actions. Leaders are human beings and have every right to feel compassion for an individual that they have no choice but to fire. But in such situations, leaders must remember that the employee brought this upon him or herself. Get it over with and move on.
  • Explanations vs. excuses: If you’re speeding and get a speeding ticket, the fact remains that you were speeding in the first place. Blaming it on that lead foot of yours is just a pointless excuse. In business, mistakes happen and explanations are needed to determine the cause and prevent repetition, but there is a fine line between an explanation and an excuse. An explanation can include ownership of the error. An excuse is almost always an attempt to deflect blame onto any place other than where it actually belongs.
  • All eyes are on you: There are countless examples of leaders tolerating intolerable behavior from one or more employees; lateness, bad attitudes, disrespect, missed deadlines, dress code violations, expense abuse, inappropriate behavior . . . the list goes on and on. The problem with tolerating intolerable behavior from certain individuals while holding everyone else accountable to the rules is that it creates a double standard. Double standards wreck company cultures in every conceivable way. It’s one thing to earn special privileges through performance and teamwork, but it’s something else to earn it through entitlement, indifference, or fear that a key employee will quit. Protecting the company culture is one of the most important duties of a leader.
  • Ask the tough question: Every leader must deal with individuals whose performances and behaviors are no longer acceptable. It doesn’t matter if the employee is in an entry-level position or top management – when unacceptable performance and behavior is allowed to continue, it contaminates the company’s culture. And when coaching, counseling, and repeated warnings prove ineffective, it’s time to objectively ask yourself this tough “yes or no” question: “Is there any indication that performance and behavior will improve?” If the answer is yes, communicate exactly what your expectations are and the timeline. If the answer is no, it’s time for the employee to find another opportunity.
  • It’s about your actions too: If you’re the owner of the company, you must be responsible for your actions too. Everything you read above applies not only to your staff, but to you, too. Too many owners justify their compromising behaviors and actions simply by saying, “It’s my company.” Yes, it IS your company and that’s every reason to stop being the one who’s getting in the way and harming its culture.

Being a no-compromise leader is all about being compassionate, fair, respectful, and trustworthy. It’s also about dealing with the tough stuff that comes with leading people and coaching them to achieve their full potential. When the behaviors and actions of a team member continually fall outside of what is tolerable for your company’s culture, it’s time to make the tough decisions and move on.

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Please share your thoughts with me about today’s Monday Morning Wake-Up. Click above to comment.

Pass this e-mail on to your business colleagues, managers and friends. They’ll appreciate it.


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