Specht: Six ‘rights’ leaders give up

I once heard a sermon on the rights of a Christian. He spoke about how we lose some of our perceived rights the more we try to live the Christian life. As I was taking notes, I realized these same rights applied to leaders. 

1. The right to be a jerk. No one really has the right to be a jerk. However, some people are given a “pass” because of their position, or lack of position in an organization. However, when the leader is a jerk, the ripple effects reach a lot farther.

Early in my leadership career, I broke the cardinal rule I learned in military leadership, praise in public, correct in private (see chapter 2). My faux pas came during a department head meeting at the newspaper I was managing at the time. Our newspaper was delivered each afternoon and the final pages had to be sent to the press by 10:30 a.m. 

My editor, who was 15 years my senior, had missed the deadline for several days. This particular day, when he was late once again, I let him have it — right in the meeting — right in front of his peers. My heart was racing as I spewed the criticizing condemnations, along with threats to his employment if he continued to miss the mark. I not only ignored the military training, I obliterated it. 

Immediately afterward, when my blood pressure returned to normal, I immediately felt convicted for my improper behavior. I was a jerk to him, and he just took it. I wish I could say I apologized and everything was OK. Truthfully, he handled it well. Apparently I wasn’t the first jerk he ever worked for. He later went to work at another newspaper and we’ve kept in touch. His grace toward an inexperienced leader spoke volumes about his own character. It still doesn’t make it right, but I have made that mistake far less often as I have matured.

2. The right to be right. Sometimes, we are right — dead right. It may be a political view or a customer service issue, but leaders do not have the right to just speak their mind. We have to “count the cost” in how we handle situations. Our actions (and words) have consequences.

My dad would say, “Don’t let your ‘mad’ get your money.” Those words would be in the back of my mind as I approached volatile situations. So many times, being right in a single situation may cost far more down the road. However, sometimes it is important to stand your ground. Careful thought prior to response will often bring the right answer.

3. The right to criticize and complain. In the workplace, this is called gossip. Dave Ramsey defines gossip as as discussing anything negative with someone who can’t help solve the problem. For leaders, this can include venting to close subordinates or co-workers.

In small operations, it is easy to befriend someone and then vent to them. We all pretty much do it. In work circles, we often spend more time with coworkers than family members. As leaders, it is all the more important to be intentional about conversations. A comment slighting another member of the team can erode his or her credibility and authority. While you may have just been expressing a momentary frustration, the damage to the team can last longer, and may even become permanent. 

 All problems should be handled either laterally or vertically. Anything else is unacceptable. If you need to vent, do it with a non-work friend or your spouse.

4. The right to justify your actions based on who you are. This is one of the most difficult for leaders. They deal with pressures that many team members have no clue about. However, just because you are under pressure does not give you the right to fly off the handle at the drop of a hat. Nor does it give you the right to treat others as if they were somehow inferior.

5. The right to be late. Chronic tardiness to scheduled meetings and events is one of the most selfish things a leader can do. This action screams, “My time is more valuable than yours!” 

Chronic lateness is a slap in the face to every member of your team. In addition, it erodes any accountability for your team’s promptness. I learned this first hand.

I had a boss who couldn’t seem to reach the office before 9 a.m., even though she required us to be at work by 8 a.m. We had a weekly sales meeting “at the beginning of the day,” which often wouldn’t take place until right before lunch. It would be comical if it wasn’t so frustrating.

Salaried people around the office knew they could be late because there was no one there to hold them accountable, but the hourly folks would be upset because they had to “clock in.” The fissure in the team created by the lack of promptness from leadership was visible to anyone that cared to observe.

This all could been avoided if my boss had simply showed up on time, whatever that time needed to be. Whether you are leading a team, a business, or a family, showing up on time is one small thing that you can do to help the perception of your leadership ability. In fact, an old military phrase is the best policy to live by. It states, “If you are five minutes early, then you are ten minutes late.”

6. The right to not care about people. True leaders realize their teams are more than the skills they bring to the job at hand. They are husbands, wives, families and others — all relying on the organization for their livelihood. They are not numbers on a financial statement. They are people and every decision should have them as one of the — if not THE — highest priorities. The same is true for customers and clients. If we lose sight of them as people, we lose our business.

The higher up you rise in leadership, the less rights you have, but the satisfaction and difference you can make as a result is well worth it.

David A. Specht Jr. | President of Specht Newspapers, Inc.

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