By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy
Here’s an idea to reinforce relationships in times of stress. Reading time: 2:49
Your high profile, highly-regarded top employee embarrasses your company –and himself—in a late night fender bender that clearly broke expected rules of behavior. Other employees are lobbying you to make sure you dole out the proper punishment “to serve as an example to all employees,” they say.
Of course you have to enforce the rules. No favoritism. Black and white issue. Done deal.
Not so fast.
That’s why the most effective leaders focus more on the shades of gray. Penalizing without paralyzing future performance.
Consider how Casey Stengel, a gray leader extraordinaire, handled this situation as the manager/leader of The New York Yankees.
It happened during the spring exhibition season a few months after his star performer – Don Larsen – pitched the first (and still the only) perfect game in a World Series. Larsen wrapped his car around a lamppost at 5 am in St. Petersburg, Florida –then known primarily for its high concentration of retirees. Larsen was more embarrassed than hurt.
Newspaper reporters asked Yankee leader/manager Stengel if he was going to fine the star pitcher. Stengel smiled and said: “Anybody who can find something to do at 5 am in St. Petersburg deserves a medal not a fine.”
Stengel diffused the situation with humor when he realized the minimal impact of the situation: no one hurt, minor damage etc. and the opportunity to reinforce his supportive relationship with his star player.
Of course, Stengel opened himself up to critics who charged favoritism. But Stengel recognized his role as a leader was to treat all of his direct reports FAIRLY not equally.
No doubt that’s why Abraham Lincoln stood by his appointment of General Ulysses S. Grant to lead the Union army during the Civil War despite critics saying that Grant was a drunk.
Lincoln asked the critics to find out what brand of whiskey Grant drinks “because I want to send a barrel of it to each one of my generals.” Done deal.
Yet sometimes a leader MUST enforce the rules no matter what the circumstances, no matter how high profile the top performer and often BECAUSE OF the status of the high profile top performer. Consider the way Green Bay Packer coach Vince Lombardi fined receiver Max McGee for breaking curfew. He doubled the fine for his second infraction and promised to double the fine again if he broke the curfew a third time.
But then Lombardi, another leader focusing more on the shades of gray, used his sense of humor to ease the stressful situation. Lombardi, with a grin flashing across his face, told McGee: “Max, if you ever find anything worth that (much money), tell me and I’ll go with you!”
Lesson learned: Leaders reprimand with a sense of dignity. They use the rules to stand on. Not hide behind.
Reprimand fairly not equally to keep your leadership thinking in mint condition.
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