Leaders, Don’t Punish the Many for the Mistakes of the Few!
Updated: Feb 24
All for one, and one for all! This saying might work for the Three Musketeers, but it might not be the best policy to adopt when it comes to disciplining your employees. Yet, leaders every day try to punish everyone for the misbehavior of a single team member. But what does that accomplish? And does it actually fix the problem?
Take, for instance, a conversation I had following one of my 18-hour supervision class sessions. A student asked about a problem she was facing at work. An employee of hers was abusing their cellphone privileges. This employee spoke to their spouse for 3-4 hours out of every 8-hour day. As a result, this student was considering discontinuing cellphone privileges for her entire staff. When I asked if she had an open mind, this student replied with an enthusiastic, "Yes!"
"Well," I said, "I respectfully disagree with your solution."
I suggested that she should communicate with the employee in question and let them know they needed to get off their phone during work hours. By discontinuing cell phone use for all of her team, she was essentially punishing others who had abided by her rules.
I'm often amazed by how often leaders on all levels of an organization penalize an entire team to get out of approaching the individual who isn't doing their job or pulling their fair share of the weight. In my most recent book, "Leaders Are MADE Not Born," What Employees Always Wanted to Tell You, But Never Do! I delve into hot button issues similar to what this student presented me with.
Confrontation is never easy. Sometimes, it can feel easier to punish everyone across the board instead of dealing with an individual one-on-one. But this will only damage your relationship with your team as a whole! Those who perform their jobs well and above expectations will begin to wonder why they (to use the example above) have lost their cell phone privileges. In the lunchroom, they may start to say things like, "Hey. I do a good job around here, but I still get chewed out. What's the point?" This attitude ends one of two ways: either that hardworking employee will become less hardworking since they get in trouble anyway, or they will leave your company to find a more hospitable working environment.
Dealing with a problem employee one-on-one takes a lot of courage and diplomacy. However, it's the only way to fix a problem. Besides, it will reflect better on you as the boss. Your team will see you as a responsible leader for dealing with the matter decisively and privately. If you discipline an employee publicly or punish your team for actions they didn't take, your credibility will drop faster than a drunk on a motorbike.
As I continually stress in my supervision classes, keynotes, and workshops, it takes courage and perseverance to be a leader. Think of that old saying: "What got you here cannot get you there." When someone isn't doing what they need to be doing, it's your job to get them back on track. You're good at your job. That's why they promoted you. But just like you expect your employees to develop and grow continually, you have to develop and grow as well. Learning to confront troublesome employees is a skill that's learned. After all, leaders are MADE, Not Born!