by Colleen Cormier, Account Executive for On The Mark Strategies

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts on qualities that define strong leaders.

You may have seen the video that went viral recently of a school principal disciplining a janitor for leaving eight minutes before his shift was over. That video is a textbook of example of how good leaders do not treat their employees.

To summarize the incident, the principal calls the janitor into her office to reprimand him for leaving 15 minutes early. He explains to her that he actually left eight minutes early. He says he thought it would be okay because he started work 15 minutes early that day. When he got to work, the fire department was onsite waiting for someone to unlock the building so they could check the fire alarms. She makes so many leadership mistakes in this conversation, which she doesn’t realize he is recording.

Good leaders listen

The principal asks the janitor seven times what his work hours are. He answers that question three times. She asks him three times what time he left that day but when he tries to answer, she keeps cutting him off. She does this throughout the conversation and then wonders why he is frustrated. He is frustrated because she is accusing him of doing something wrong but won’t let him explain his side of the story. At one point, she tells him to stop talking, and toward the end of the meeting, she tells him the meeting is over while he is still speaking.

Even during tense situations, good leaders must listen to their employees. Don’t keep asking them questions to which you already know the answers, and if you do ask questions, give your employees a chance to speak.

Good leaders show respect

The principal is very condescending to the janitor. She spends most of the time talking at him instead of engaging him. She asks him four times who his boss is. When he explains to her why he opened the building early, clearly thinking he did the right thing by accommodating the fire marshall, she tells him he needs “permission” to do that and she didn’t give him permission. She also says, “They are not your boss,” and tells him he can’t adjust his hours just because he feels like it.

Reprimanding an employee does not mean belittling him. Sit down with the employee and tell him you called the meeting to discuss whatever it is you think he did wrong. Explain why you believe it was a mistake and then give him the opportunity to explain why he thinks it was the right thing to do. Be firm, if necessary, but don’t use words like permission and boss to remind him you are in charge. Say something like, “In the future, please ask me before you start your day early or leave before your shift is over.”

Both of these people made mistakes. He assumed he could leave a few minutes early because he came in a few minutes early. He should have talked to her first. She was on a very condescending power trip. Nothing he said was going to be right. She had made up her mind before he walked through that door that she was calling HR because he left eight minute early. Don’t be this principal. Do whatever it takes to listen and show respect for your employees, even when you are reprimanding them.