When I got my first major leadership position, I was excited about making an impact. I was put in charge of a staff of 27 members, many who had more on the job experience than my own age. I tried my best to build teamwork, prepare schedules that would suit individual strengths and programmed in individual and group training. Our performance shot up steadily and by the end of the second year, other competing units began to sit up and take notice. But even then something else was happening that would ultimately show me how much success can be dangerous to the leader.
In an effort to keep up the steady improvement in performance, I attended various seminars, where I learnt how important it was to “know your staff individually”. I took it very seriously, and deliberately assigned time to meet each member of staff regularly. I felt pleased when, after some time, I would be invited to special family activities: kids’ graduations, christenings, and birthday parties. A couple of the senior staff members, Samuel and Jonah, and I often met as members of the same club, and played football together. However, after a while, I began to notice that Samuel was coming to work increasingly late, sometimes by as much as 2 hours, while Jonah kept rarely submitted his weekly report by the Friday deadline, instead shifting it to late Mondays or Tuesdays. I requested for change verbally and eventually through a memo. They came to my office, apologized, and soon went make to their bad habits. It was beginning to affect the behavior of the rest of the staff.
Then three weeks later, for reasons that no one could gather, Samuel and Jonah could never agree on anything. I tried to bring them together, mistakenly thinking that I could broker a truce and, eventually hold the already fractured staff together. That was the biggest mistake I ever made. If I mentioned that one person was right, the other would take it that l was taking unfair sides and this would lead to resentment. There was no peace.
Eventually, both Jonah and Samuel quit their jobs in a huff and taking some of their supporters with them. I was distraught. Our results plunged for the first two quarters of the year, and it looked like the rest of the year was going to be disastrous.
I learned on valuable lesson: I may have self-discipline, but I had failed to instill discipline amongst my staff consistently, in an effort to be accepted. The fact that staff was now more familiar with me should not have meant that they could act in the disrespectful manner that they had adopted. I had lost the ability to control them.
During the next three months, I engaged new senior staff, and helped them engage the lower cadre officers for their respective sections. I also set new conditions and trained all staff on their doe of conduct. By the end of the year, we succeeded in beating our targets, and once again our unit topped the performance charts.
Here are some of lessons about discipline and leadership:
- Set up golden rules of behavior and stick to them. These rules will often stem from your organizations Code of Conduct or similar documents.
- Do not operate under two separate rules where you have discipline, yet your staff can get away with breaking expected code of behavior. Make it a practice to train your staff and then ensure that they know that you will act to discipline poor behavior. Take action immediately a staff member fails to follow the required ethic of behavior. This ensures consistent acceptable behavior modification.
- As a leader, you always have the option to drop undisciplined staff, and seek support to recruit and train new members. Even when you do not have direct responsibility, seek the necessary support from those in charge to support your section to act immediately.
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