Monday, April 25, 2011

Servant Leadership Practice--Once, Twice, a Pattern

There's an old joke about a farmer heading home from church with his wife in a buggy pulled by a mule. The mule stops just a short ways down the road. The farmer climbs down the buggy, muttering, "That's one." He coaxes the mule to move along. Before getting home, the mule stops again. With a big sigh, the farmer says, "That's two." He climbs down and gets the mule going once again. However, not too much further, the mule stops. "That's three," the farmer says as he pulls his pistol and shoots the mule in the head. "What are you doing?" screams his wife. "That's our only mule. How will we get home? How will we plow the fields? We'll starve. We'll die. We'll have to beg for food." The farmer turns to her and says, "That's one."

One month of higher sales does not mean that things are looking better, just as one month of poor sales does not mean the end of the world. Nor does one mistake mean an employee won't be able to do better next time.

We all make mistakes. If it starts to be a pattern, then we need to look for a cause. However, our reaction doesn't need to be extreme the first incident. I haven't heard of anyone getting fired for the first tardy or absence. Nonetheless, I have heard of people who have been demoted or not given another chance because a problem happened during their shift. I've heard of people who weren't allowed to write another contract because they overlooked one aspect.

As a first-time plant manager, I was anxious to make a connection with the supervisors. One came to me with a story about how one employee was making lots of mistakes. It was evident because very few mistakes were occurring while this employee was on vacation. He suggested that the employee be fired for poor performance. Unfortunately, I went along with the recommendation. It was a mistake not to give the employee another chance when he returned from vacation. It was wrong even though there was a pattern of mistakes on the employee's part. It was wrong because I didn't have a history of knowing the quality of this supervisor's recommendations.

I also failed to follow a bit of wisdom that I had learned long ago. Most of the problems in an organization are due to management, according to Joseph Juran, the quality and management guru. I should have taken time to learn what was holding this employee's performance back. Was it training, materials, process, equipment? Did he have a skill set that would be better utilized in a different area? I should have taken time to learn more about the supervisor.

Today, look for the pattern in behaviors and problems. Have the self-control to think through the situation before taking action. Look at yourself to see how your own efforts and emotions might be affecting the situation or the perceived acceptability of a recommendation.

For C12 and Truth@Work members, we know we make mistakes. Sometimes I can read an email 3 times before I send it, and still find errors. To say that we don't make mistakes is arrogance. To say we don't sin we're not being truthful. If we sin, we want forgiveness. If we want forgiveness so do others. To deny them forgiveness, hinders us from receiving it too. (I John 1.1-8, Matt. 6.12ff, Luke 6.37)

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