I was at the grocery store a few days ago and saw a woman and her son in one of the aisles. The toddler couldn’t seem to keep his hands off of all the items in front of him.
“Brent, put that back!” the woman scolded.
The boy didn’t budge.
“I’m warning you!” the woman added with an unconvincing face of rebuke.
The boy looking up at her and smirked.
“One… two… don’t let me get to three, Brent,” she continued.
The woman never got to “three,” and even if she did, I highly doubt anything would have happened—and the little boy knew that.
Children test what they are allowed to play with before they hear a “no,” teenagers see how far past their curfew they can return home before being punished, and adults see how far over the speed limit they can drive without getting pulled over by the police.
If you’re ever able to get away with something once, you’ll try it again…and again—until you set a new standard for yourself. (Give an inch and they’ll take a mile, right?)
Employees are no different with testing boundaries.
Some will see how long they can stay out for their lunch break before any one notices, and others will see how many times you’ll extend the deadline for that assignment you gave them.
We tend to focus on the “nicer” attributes leaders should be—I guess to counteract the thoughts of dictatorship that can come to mind when the word leader is said.
But all of those traits shouldn’t erase the main thing a leader should do—lead. Set the rules and follow through on them. (That means you have to follow your own rules too!)
If your expectations aren’t met, there needs to be a clear acknowledgment of the shortcoming with the offender. And with habitual offenders, there needs to be a consequence.
Not doing so will push your limits further back, and you’ll end up having a workplace where people aren’t abiding by the same standards, which can come off as showing favoritism.
The goal isn’t to be a tyrant with your criteria or consequences. The focus is to enforce the standards that you set. Otherwise, you’ll be like that mother in the grocery store that no one takes seriously—and it’s hard to recover once you reach that point.