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Leadership by Example - Take your licks

As a supervisor, the relationship that we maintain with our team is based on trust.  Our team needs to trust that we are making fair and objective decisions.  The mere hint in impropriety can disperse a group effort, leaving the results of any action in question, and threaten our ability to achieve our goals.

When I was in elementary school, I heard plenty about my "Permanent Record" and how all of my transgressions would be tallied against me in later life.  It is a bit banal how adults can terrorize children into behaving, but it works, so we'll keep it (only joking).  There is a segment of the workforce that I have worked with that seems obsessed with the idea of having the perfect record.  This could be a perfect driving record, a perfect on-time bill payment record, and of course, the perfect work record.  There will be a time when these records get broken.  When that happens, it is important to keep going, and not lose focus.  The importance in anything is to do our best and improve, and sometimes that means taking your licks.

In the classes that I teach, I stress to all of my students that the pursuit of absolute perfection is not only pointless, but damaging.  Please, don't get me wrong, I want my students to do their absolute best.  I urge them to exert maximum effort to achieve the highest grades possible on homework, quizzes, exams and projects.  However, it is unlikely that any of my students will ever receive 100% of the points availalbe.  Some students get so upset by this, that I worry they won't get over it.  A small few have even talked about dropping the course so they can take an opportunity to get a perfect grade . . . . . .not good.  Even with my own children, I don't expect perfection. I have high standards, and I try dearly to hold them accountable.  When they have tried their all, and truly put in a top effort, it makes me proud, no matter what.

In the workplace, one of the more undesireable parts of our job is to enforce guidelines and administer progressive discipline when necessary.  In my work, safety and attendance are paramount concerns.  Our process is manpower intensive, but we are competitive because of our lean workforce.  When an employee calls off without notice or excuse, it can immediately affect their bonus pay and create a noticable vacancy in the process.  If it continues, it results in write-ups, time off without pay, and eventually in the worse cases, termination.  Likewise, because of the hazards in the steel industry, our safety rules and guidelines need to be followed and enforced.

In safety meetings we discuss certain concerns as "Cardinal Rules" and breaking one will result in time-off without pay or termination, regardless of one's work record.  Other offenses are dealt in a more progressive fashion starting with a counseling notice, verbal warning, written warning, and time-off.  If an employee continues to work unsafe or misses too much time, they will be forced to find work elsewhere.

Many times, employees get frustrated by the varying severity of discipline.  Just as often as they feel that some people are punished too rough they feel that others are dealt with to leniently.  Often, there are details of the incidents that justify the action taken.  These details don't always make it to the "sewing circles" that occur in the locker rooms, break rooms and cafeteria.  I have spent a good deal of time, informally speaking with my direct reports and other coworkers about the reasoning behind the decisions so they can have some faith and trust in supervisions' objectivity, and not dismayed by arbitrary and capricious actions.

Over the past twenty years, I have had a pretty decent record, but not a perfect one.  I went through a three year period where I was injured on the job four times, once almost life threatening.  It was made very clear to me that my life, and advancability would depend upon finding a better, safer way of approaching my job.  For the most part, I have been succesful in doing just that.  Lately, due to an overloaded work and personal schedule, I have found myself more and more tired and rushed.  The other day, this got the better of me. 

We had a series of mechanical breakdowns with solutions consuming most of the work day.  Earlier in the morning, I placed a personal safety lock on a power disconnect while helping with a particular job.  Most times, I remember to remove my lock once I leave the job, but because of some distractions it stayed on the disconnect even after I left work to go home.  This is a big no-no.  It isn't a cardinal offense, but it is nothing to be taken lightly.  One of my team members called me on my cell phone to tell me.  They were ready to start up the equipment, and I live about 30 minutes away.  Normally there is a procedure to cut a person's lock off, and it involves paperwork.  I approved my coworker to remove my lock in way that wouldn't destroy it, which in turn didn't necessitate a paper trail.

The next morning, I spoke with this coworker about the incident, and I could tell that he was bothered by it.  I told him not to worry, that I was going to report the incident to my manager, so that it was handled correctly.  I approached my manager, and told him up front that I had made a mistake, and left my lock in place and left the site the evening before.  He responded that he would issue a counseling notice, same as is done wtih anyone who had commited this infraction in the past.

There is no perfection that we as mortals can attain in this world.  Adhering to some lofty ideal of not making a mistake is the best way to make too many.  I earned a new level of trust from my team, but owning up to my error and not brushing it off.  I took my licks, and I learned something from it. 

Keep it safe, keep it real.


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