“Pull rank,” or lead?

April 23rd, 2013

The young woman’s face grew red, although considerable time had passed since the incident she was describing. She continued, 

I work at a law firm. I made a mistake and my boss yelled at me. I was humiliated. I went back to my desk, but it was two or three days before I could concentrate well enough to get any work done.

What should a boss do who becomes aware of offending an employee by excessive conduct in a dispute? An impulse might be to stand on one’s higher position in the chain of command, or to hunker down and let it blow over. Neither represents effective leadership.

Ideally, the boss and employee should have a private conversation and try to restore the working relationship as promptly as possible.  In a company that holds to Biblical principles, both boss and employee should feel free to initiate the conversation. Jesus said:

“. . . if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5, verses 23-24, italics added.

He made no exception for brothers (or sisters) higher in the chain of command.

On practical grounds also, the boss should welcome the opportunity to reconcile. Research has found that conflict has serious costs to businesses, among which are stress, frustration, anxiety, absenteeism and “presenteeism”(being physically present in the workplace but not working effectively). (A piece at http://www.conflictatwork.com/conflict/cost_e.cfm describes these and other common costs of conflict.)

Therefore, on ethical and practical grounds, companies are wise to encourage employees to resolve grievances promptly and not let them fester or boil over.
Some things a boss can do when personally involved in a workplace conflict,, include:

  1. Bosses who know or learn that they have offended can speak privately with aggrieved co-workers, acknowledging their responsibility in the conflict, and asking to be forgiven for their excessive behavior.  Co-workers who feel offended can do the same. (This is especially important for Christian bosses and employees, according to Matthew 18, verse 15.)
  2. By mutual agreement bosses and co-workers can involve other individuals whom they both trust to participate and facilitate communication.  In a complex situation this might be a professional mediator.
  3. For thorny disagreements there can be arbitration.

Conflict is unavoidable. The boss who is proactive in resolving conflict will lead a stronger company and have better relationships with his or her fellow workers.

Image by ianmunroe. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.

Tags: lead, Leadership