Seven Principles for Managing People Issues When There’s No Playbook for Leadership

Martha CarlsonBy Martha Carlson

LeadershipI recently read a Wall Street Journal leadership article on helping bosses decode the millennial workforce. Tony Kender, Oracle’s senior VP of human capital, relayed a situation where he granted an employee a three-month leave of absence to attend a friend’s snowboarding competition on the theory that it wouldn’t significantly affect his long-term value to the firm and would increase his engagement and retention. The employee never returned from the leave. Tony’s lament? “There’s no playbook for this.”

When is there ever a playbook for leadership decision making, particularly when it comes to developing and retaining the right talent or making difficult people decisions? Given the pace of change in today’s workplace, even if there was a playbook, it would be obsolete in a matter of months!

I have led people and coached people who lead people for the better part of the last 30 years. I have hired over 50 people and fired at least 10. I have developed, promoted, demoted, laterally moved and coached people to consider completely new career paths. I have put employees on performance improvement plans, followed the “progressive discipline” approach and terminated an employee for cause. I have mitigated conflicts between people. There was no playbook in most of these instances*.

In absence of a playbook, the following principles have enabled me to move through challenging people issues and coach others along the same lines:

  1. Consider what is in the best interest of the business and the individual. Find the intersection if possible; if not, make the tough call and go with the best interest of the business.
  2. Treat people with dignity and respect. Treat others how you wish to be treated, even in difficult situations.
  3. Believe in and seek out the unique gifts in others. I have learned over the years that there is something to love in just about everyone.
  4. Set your assumptions aside and ask questions. Seek to understand the other person’s perspective before you jump to conclusions.
  5. Let your conscience be your guide. There will be times when you are tempted to make a call or take an action and your gut tells you it isn’t right or the timing is off. Trust your gut. In Shakespeare’s words, “discretion is the better part of valor.”
  6. Recognize that you don’t know it all, you will screw it up, and you aren’t perfect. Neither is anyone else.
  7. When you get stuck (and you will get stuck), ask for help. Seek out a trusted co-worker, mentor or coach and ask for his or her perspective.

 
*In situations involving disciplinary action or termination, find out your company’s policies and partner with your human resources leader before moving forward.