Leadership Case Study: “Two Headed Snake” Leader or Misinformed Employee
As I was at my local dim sum (various styles of steamed dumplings, buns and noodles) restaurant, raised voices from the table next to mine caught my attention. They seemed to be colleagues with one complaining loudly,
“Walao (What the hell), during our meeting today, my boss was very supportive – telling everyone that they’d done a good job and thanking us for our effort. I left feeling great. Then! He called me to his office and suddenly, he was reprimanding me! He brought up all sorts of nonsense and f***ed me over from left, right and centre. He’s such a two headed snake”.
Now, being a leader and a boss myself, I felt the need to defend this unknown, “two-headed snake” of a boss. However, it takes two hands to clap. Let us look at this situation from both perspectives:
1. THE BOSS
To be honest – it could have been worse. The nastiest possible scenario would have been if individual employees were reprimanded in a public setting – basically, public shaming. Be it in a closed meeting or in the middle of the office, no one likes to be told that they have done things wrongly or that they suck at their job in front of other people. This is a sure-fire way to cause distrust and lose loyalty within the team and the company. Here’s what you, as a boss, can do instead:
- Listen to what they have to say: Understand your employees’ needs and goals
It helps to be on the same page – as a team. What does the company want? What does the employee want? How can you make it so that both the company and the employee is able to align their goals to be mutually beneficial? Before you lecture your employees, ask yourself this: are you clear with what you want and need from them?
- Communicate your standard : Make sure it’s the same across the board
Not everyone thinks or processes things the same way – we cannot expect them to. As such, there is a need to be specific with what your objectives are. Set a standard for behaviour, for the quality of output as well as the speed of output. Instead of telling your employee that they are slow and lacking in the correct motivational spirit, tell them what you need done and when you need it by as well as why you need it done in that period of time. If they can understand your needs, they will be more capable of delivering exactly what you require. Don’t allow for anyone to stray from the standard that has been set; that would just create tension due to the unfair treatment.
- Implement a “progressive discipline system”
The “progressive discipline system” combats the issue of unfair dismissal, thus protecting employees from being removed without cause. However, there are benefits to this from a managerial standpoint as well. They are given a reasonable amount of time to make changes to their behaviour following these 5 steps:
- Counselling or verbal warning;
- Written reprimand and warning;
- Suspension or Suspension pending investigation and final determination;
- Specific warning of termination;
In implementing this system, employees get a clear guideline as to what it is that needs to be improved upon – is it their behaviour? Their workplace ethic? Their team ability to work with their team?
2. THE EMPLOYEE
Sure, it does not seem very honest of your boss to have said one thing only to tell you something completely different later. It is not uncommon to have a boss that retracts his/her statements or forgets things you’ve already said or done. If you feel as though what he/she has said was unjustified, here’s what you, as an employee, can do:
- Focus specifically on the details of the issue
You cannot expect to fix an issue if you do not know why it is an issue in the first place. There might be a different interpretation of how the issue came to be. If the issue is with the tone used when delivering the reprimand, make sure to bring it up and explain why it rubbed you the wrong way. However, remember that this is still your boss that you are talking to –be objective and respectful, leave the whining and accusations at home.
- Follow up separately with solutions to issues discussed
Once you understand the issue, solutions will come to you like a breeze. If the issue was with your performance, give your boss a resolution. For example, if you are not reaching your prospecting targets, let him/her know that you “will make XX calls a day to clients” and “close XX amount of deals in a set amount of time”. Not only will this give you a clear goal to work towards, your employer will also have a way to measure your performance and it is fair to both parties. Take note of what was said and discussed so that it can be referred to should there be grey area.
- Be honest with yourself
Take a step back, put your ego aside and ask yourself: you do what your boss accused you of doing? Were you lacking in the ways he pointed out? Was anything he said valid? A phase towards personal and professional growth requires you to be frank with yourself.
At the end of the day, it boils down to communication. Different people have different views on how to deliver certain messages. If you’ve made a mistake, no matter what level of the hierarchy you are on, admit to having made a mistake and apologise – but don’t stop there: offer a solution or two (after all, you are the one that made the mistake in the first place). Transparency and an open, two-way channel of communication would mean that everyone is learning and there is no hostility in the team.
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