A Leader’s Dilemma; Punish or Pamper?

On CBS Morning, there was a piece titled Punish or Pamper. The news story was about how to maximize productivity in the workplace. Why is this an either/or issue? Is managing a team about punish or pamper? I don’t think so…

There are times when employees need and deserve to be pampered, and conversely, there are times when it is appropriate to “punish.” I’m not a fan of the word punish. The connotation is too negative, too divisive.

Punishment is equal to “going to jail,” the adult version of “time out.” We shouldn’t punish an employee; we should coach them or, in cases where coaching doesn’t work, redirect their careers.

The primary job of a manager is to create a work environment that maximizes every employee’s performance. To get maximum performance requires the manager to understand what motivates each of the staff, understand what their individual goals and aspirations are, what situations result in distractions and decreased performance, and what tools and support they need to be excellent and expert. A punish or pamper mentality reduces the manager’s job to a surrogate parent, not an effective leader or even an adequate manager.

So, how does a manager become an effective leader?
Stop treating those that report to you as children; treat them as adults. Adults can make decisions and self-direct their efforts. Adults are held responsible for their choices, good or bad, and their actions, good or bad. Adults don’t purposely make mistakes and get away with them. Adults do make mistakes due to bad judgment or wrong information. A leader always assumes positive intention by staff and uses errors as an opportunity to teach and coach.

In organizations I have led, I have an 80/20 rule. An employee can make mistakes up to 20% of the time. The covenant I create with each employee is always exhibiting trust and integrity in your work. We are all humans, and not one of us is perfect. Let’s agree we will sooner or later goof up. When I make a mistake, I promise the team; I will own up to it, mea culpa, and take the heat. Likewise, each team member agrees to own up to their mistakes immediately and accepts responsibility. As leaders, we know, if an error is made, the imperative is to take corrective action to mitigate the damage. Suppose we do not create this covenant of trust and integrity with our staff. In that case, the ensuing denials, finger-pointing, and coverups do immense harm to organizational unity and performance and do nothing to control the damage caused by one innocent mistake. This culture of blame placing versus blame taking magnifies the loss.

A leader’s world is not about punishing or pampering; it is about teaching, coaching, mentoring, and creating a team that trusts and respects each other. With this team culture, each team member is empowered to take necessary risks in their job and be an expert in executing their work because they know the “boss” and their teammates have their back.Leaders create this culture of high performance by leading with a mea culpa by trusting their staff’s intentions by using real-time teaching and coaching to correct incidents of poor judgment or lousy information mistakes. Once it is identified that an employee does not take to the teaching and coaching but continues to make the same mistakes, help them redirect their careers elsewhere. Life is too short to waste on people that fail to learn and improve.

About Rich Jones

Strategic consultant and Keynote Speaker, Rich brings a deep experience in the disciplines of Strategic Planning, Marketing, Business Development, Digital Transformation, Data Utilization, Leadership Development and Cultural Alignment. A husband, father, runner, cyclist, beer drinker with a passion for life.

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