Question: How can leaders hold their people appropriately accountable without fear of being held up for bullying or harassment?
Answer: This question frequently crops up with Legitimate Leadership consultants. As organisations rightfully focus on how to create safe environments for their people to work without fear of discrimination, it is also important to ensure that leaders can censure and discipline their people when needed.
The issue at stake for individual leaders is courage.
Leaders are not leaders unless and until they have a relationship of trust with their people. That trust is built on a personal relationship which requires the leader to put the employees’ interests first, to care for them as human beings – not just as human resources – and to grow them not just to be better, but excellent. This cannot be done without setting standards – behavioural and performance.
When employees do a good job, it is good manners to say thank you and give praise. When employees go above and beyond to make an exceptional contribution it is only right that they should be rewarded for doing so.
So what happens when standards are not met? Ignoring this for fear of retribution is effectively saying ‘it doesn’t matter’, and over time the inevitable decline leads to mediocrity or worse. This is reason enough to censure or discipline when needed.
But it’s not the core reason.
The core reason is because the employee is being cheated of an opportunity to grow and be better.
Leaders who avoid the difficult conversations are not only tolerating the deterioration of standards but are clearly saying to their people ‘I don’t care enough about you to hold you up on it’. In time this leads to an inevitable lack of trust and a withholding of willingness and loyalty.
What do leaders need to do?
Legitimate Leadership requires unconditional giving on behalf of the leader. This means having the courage to have the appropriate conversations with their people when needed. Yes of course they need to be diligent, follow internal processes and consult with HR when needed. But above all they need to put the care and growth of their people above any fear of personal attack.
As Nelson Mandela famously said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”