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Punishment, pages 243-246

Part Two: Leadership Tactics, 3. Maneuvers, H. Punishment, (pages 243-246)


H. Punishment

While punishment is an option, it should be rarely used. “If your troops don’t execute the plan, then, of course, you should first look in the mirror.” The leader can not assume that the troops understand all the rules and the consequences. “The need to punish someone on the team is almost always a direct reflection of the leader and the failure to lead appropriately. This might seem extreme – and in fact, it is. It is Extreme Ownership.” However, when lines are crossed, punishment must follow. The important thing to consider is that the lines must be clearly defined and the rules understood. If they are not, the leader is at fault. If they are, and a violation still occurs, punishment is typically the next step. “No one should be surprised when they receive a punishment.” However, there are times, due to mitigating factors, that the punishment could be altered. “Mercy should not be seen as a weakness. A leader who considers mitigating factors will not be seen as lenient but as sensible.” A person's past practices should come into play when determining punishment. “The better you lead, the less you will need punitive action, but you will sometimes need it. Deliver it with justice.”


As a leader, the last thing I wanted to do was to give out punishment. Besides the effect on the person violating the rule, it can also have a ripple effect on your organization. More on this ripple effect later. As a young leader, I was hesitant to administer punishment. I was also guilty of only looking at the action and not the reasons behind it. That changed when I was an elementary principal and it was brought to my attention a teacher was habitually coming to work late. While not a safety issue because students were not yet in the building, it was breaking the contract. While I could have simply written the person up a put a letter in their file, I did not. I have my executive assistant to thank for that. She told me this teacher had a baby over the summer and was struggling with daycare in the morning. So, I went and spoke with her about her being late to work. She confirmed that due to daycare issues, it was nearly impossible to get to work on time. I then simply asked her how I could help. She looked dumbfounded. I explained it’s my job to take care of my teachers and that we could work together to find a solution. We eventually shifted her day to have her start a little later but then stay a little later. We ensured we were abiding by the contract by working with the Union. Eventually, her daycare situation improved and her schedule returned to normal. At least two major things occurred by telling her I would help. First, she became my biggest ally and my go-to person when I needed information or something to get done. Second, I gained respect from the rest of the staff. This came about in two ways. First, I listened before reacting so that my actions were appropriate. Second, many staff members thanked me for addressing the situation. I found out past administration would not have dealt with it because it was easier for them to not have to. As I matured as an administrator I came to realize that teachers did not try to protect those consistently breaking the rules, but they also felt it was not their responsibility to tell on them. By not dealing with those who broke the rules, the administrator was sending a clear message of either ineptitude or laziness. Both of which are unacceptable for good leadership. So the ripple effect of effectively dealing with rule-breakers, is in fact, positive. When you are the leader, lead. And when rules are clearly broken, ask why. Your staff will respect that you are listening and leading with justice.

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