Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. – Matthew 7:1-2
Oh what a wonderful world it would be, if everyone would just show up on time, keep track of their attendance, and follow every procedure to the letter, right? Unfortunately this does not always happen and we, as leaders, often find ourselves in the position of issuing discipline to a team member. And while Matthew’s admonition can leave us feeling that we are sitting in judgement of another, he is actually warning against allowing arrogance and hypocrisy in to these situations. However, these two attributes of judgment can be kept at bay by three simple components of legitimate discipline:
Backed by documented policy: We have a moral imperative to enforce standards of conduct and performance within our teams. Every leader in an organization must make themselves familiar with the policy manual and their department’s documented procedures. The same should be demanded of team members as well. I have encountered both leaders and team members who thought they fully understood the policies, but were rather creative in their interpretations. A proper understanding of the context and desired result of these policies is critical since the same standards by which we hold others accountable will, no doubt, be used to hold us accountable as well.
Reviewed by a higher authority: The issuing leader cannot be the judge and the jury. A leader one level higher in the chain, or perhaps in Human Resources, should provide a check and balance by reviewing disciplines prior to their issuance. Picture a sheriff presenting a warrant to a judge for approval. In such a system, the team members can at least be assured that any disciplinary actions being taken have been reviewed and agreed upon by their leadership.
Issued out of genuine concern: If you are a new leader, then you may find that you are not completely comfortable issuing discipline. If you are a seasoned leader, then you may find that you can issue discipline in your sleep. Either way, leaders who issue discipline without at least minimal tugs on their hearts, are lacking in empathy. And while often considered a skill of the soft-hearted, it is empathy that allows us to appreciate the humanity of the person sitting before us. It fuels our desire to help that team member identify areas requiring improvement and to formulate a plan of action.
Discipline is simply another skill in our leadership toolbag. One that we must competently employ as the situation demands. And as with any other skill, consistency will deliver confidence in both our enforcement of standards and discernment of appropriate corrective actions.