Tough Love In Management: Lessons Learned The Hard Way

My twelve-year-old son learned a tough lesson the other day. He has been saving up for an Xbox; mowing lawn, birthday money, good grades [I pay for A’s] and whatever extra chores he can do. He kept his saved cash in nice little piles on his desk and despite warnings from both his mom and I to put his money in a safe place, he insisted it was safe out in the open.

We live in a neighborhood with lots of children and a bunch of those kids are coming and going out of our house all the time. As you might have guessed, when it came time for my son to go shopping for the coveted Xbox, fifty dollars was missing. He literally tore up his room looking for it, but it was gone.

My wife knew he had enough money because she had helped him count it a few days before their planned trip to the store, and both of us were heartbroken that our trusting son should experience such a hard lesson. We talked and considered, do we bail him out to ease his pain or is this a valuable lesson? No one died, he can live without an Xbox, the grass is still growing and there will be more mowing. What do you think we did? Agree with us or not, our decision was to not bail him out.

We were all upset that someone we had openly let into our house would steal from us, but that was done and we could not undue it. The most important thing to us as parents was that our son learn that trust is best earned, losing things is not the end of the world, it is important to listen to others, and that no matter what–we love him.

Our employees sometimes do not listen to us and mistakes happen that may not have occurred if they would have listened to us. How we handle those incidents is crucial in building a respectful and responsibility-minded work environment. Simple bailing an employee out of their mistake may not be the best thing to do. Sometimes our role as a leader is to help an employee learn from the consequences of their actions. Not demean them or disrespect them, but help them own their actions and take responsibility for making things right. Doing this effectively requires a respectful relationship with our employees and for our employees to know that our intent as their supervisor is to help them be their best.

Employees who own their mistakes and work to make them right often experience an increase in self esteem and a sense they can handle more responsibility rather than less. What lesson/s do employees learn if you simply bail them out? Too often, they learn that they are screw ups, they do not need to take ownership, and nobody really cares what they do.

My heartfelt belief is that our job as supervisors is to help our employees become better—and sometimes that means helping them deal with and be responsible for their mistakes.

If you have any questions about The Village Business Institute and the services we provide to companies and organizations throughout the nation, contact me at 701-451-4900, 1-800-627-8220 or