Courtesy and development in leadership

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Sometimes courtesy can appear the weaker option: giving in to other considerations. This is not the case. In conjunction with discipline, courtesy plays an important role in effective leadership.

While we often think of discipline in connection with the military, it is a vital characteristic of successful businesses and organisations. The discipline of punctuality, for example, can help to ensure a business achieves maximum productivity.

Discipline also concerns statutory obligations applying to businesses. Food businesses are required to perform specific processes and maintain specified hygiene standards. Care and health organisations, travel and transport businesses, manufacturers and others need to meet the requirements of various laws and regulations, including health and safety. These businesses have no choice in the matter as this form of discipline is imposed on them.

At its most basic, discipline could involve telling people what to do. On its own, this is unlikely to either motivate employees or ensure they comply with the instructions they are given. This is where courtesy matters in leadership style.

It is both possible and preferable to combine discipline with courtesy to ensure that employees don’t just perform to minimum standards, with potentially negative consequences, but are inspired by leaders to reach much higher standards.

Achieving this balance is one of the biggest challenges when running a business, as each individual, team and organisation has to develop the leadership style that suits it best. However, a well disciplined business operating with motivated people is more likely to be a successful one.

How can we develop a successful leadership style combining courtesy with discipline and get things done through generating commitment and loyalty from employees?

Here are some suggestions.

1. Give clear instructions

People perform better when they understand what is required of them. Clear instructions that explain processes and what they produce will help here.

When people don’t understand, repeating the same instructions won’t make them understand.

Managers and supervisors need to understand processes and requirements too. If they don’t understand, how can they expect the people who actually do the work to understand?

2. Ensure understanding and answer questions

It can be very damaging if processes are carried out incorrectly because employees are too scared to ask questions. Just think of the consequences if this happens once, for a day, a month or years without anyone realising. Could it result in legal action for defective or substandard products, refunds or fines for breaking regulations?

There are many reasons why individuals don’t want to admit to not understanding something, but it can be dangerous for a business.

Where people feel comfortable asking questions, a business can avoid this happening. Individuals are more likely to ask supervisors and managers they respect, especially when they know they will be taken seriously and receive the answers they need.

3. Ask questions

There is no way that everyone can know everything. Effective leaders often succeed by recognising the skills and expertise of their people and seeing how to apply these effectively.

Asking questions when we do not understand something recognises and demonstrates employees’ value in the business. By showing our own confidence in asking questions we can also encourage others to ask important questions rather than stay silent.

4. Lead by example

Many employers dream of staff who are punctual, have a perfect attendance record, can work independently, put as much energy as possible into their work and are a credit to the business. Leadership style can determine how closely staff meet these requirements.

In some businesses employees watch the clock and leave early whenever they can, while in others employees stay late voluntarily to complete an important piece of work. Leadership by example can often influence employees’ behaviour in these instances.

5. Reward good performance

Often businesses require strict operating processes or performance. Exact start times, high production targets and exacting standards are examples of some of the pressures placed on employees.

Even where employee contracts state tough requirements and salaries reflect them, a thank you can still be highly treasured. Especially where employees have worked beyond the call of duty, an unexpected bonus, time off or other gesture can mean a lot.

No one likes to be taken for granted. In times when people are under pressure at work or at home, where life is hard for whatever reason, acknowledgement and thanks can make all the difference.

6. Admit when things go wrong and act fast

When things go wrong, delay is the most dangerous option. It can be tough to face up to problems and often it can be difficult to decide the best course of action, but the more time that passes, the tougher things get.

Admitting to problems and admitting, and especially apologising for, mistakes are difficult but necessary. Having the courage to do this marks out an effective leader.

None of these are easy for any of us, but in the long term will likely prove the best options. They will also help to maintain support.

7. Exceptional leaders

Exceptional times are often the making of exceptional leaders.

The unexpected, the unimaginable and extremes present the biggest challenges. They will most likely require leaders to appeal to employees for help and co-operation. Whether they obtain this could determine the survival of the business if the threat is big enough.

Strong leaders who combine discipline with courtesy would seem the most likely to succeed.

Effective leadership is a challenge for us all.

We hope these points stimulate thought on what works best in your business for you and your people.

If you have any suggestions, please do add a comment.

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