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Love the wrongdoer, hate the wrong

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Love the wrongdoer, hate the wrong.

As leaders, we should keep this in mind whenever dealing with performance issues.

A HR manager I knew was involved in firing someone for gross misconduct. Afterwards, she met the dismissed employee in the car park. She checked in with him as a human, to see if he was ok. And wished him good luck in the next chapter of his career, before hugging him goodbye.

She later said she’d understood that – while he’d made a bad mistake and had to leave – it didn’t mean he was a bad guy. And she understood how difficult it must be to suddenly lose your job.

When someone in our team is behaving poorly, it’s easy – and I suspect natural – to dislike them.

There’s a tendency to dehumanise them. We forget that the poor behaviour is an expression of their incompetence, insecurities and fears. Not any underlying badness.

I suspect this is a coping mechanism. Because, the less we see someone as human, the less discomfort we’ll feel when – for example – we sack them.

But this hardens us, which undermines our leadership ability. And risks valuing the wrong things, given our values are expressed loudest through our actions.

This is where we need to be more mindful as leaders.

We need to separate the wrong from the wrongdoer.

We must be intolerant of poor behaviour in the workplace. Where it affects others. And where it undermines performance.

But that doesn’t mean we need to be unkind to the person behind it.

Depending on the circumstances, this person may no longer have a place in our organisation.

But just because we sack someone doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue treating the person with care.

Because, in the end, how we treat others is a reflection on us and our organisation more than it is on them.

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