One evening many years ago I was manager on call for my hospital and at around 7 pm the phone rang. It was the switchboard to tell me the fire alarm was going off. I drove to the hospital thinking that as usual this would be another false alarm.
I arrived and was met by a less common situation in that there was a genuine problem. One of the evening cleaners had unfortunately forgotten she had left a pot of water boiling on a hot plate and the water had boiled dry causing the pan to become extremely hot and eventually smoke had begun to emerge thus activating the smoke detectors and setting off the fire alarm. The local fire brigade complete with two engines blue lights flashing and sirens screaming had arrived on the scene to quickly confirm there was no serious damage and all was returning to calm. The poor cleaner was very upset that her oversight had caused such a commotion and I could not help feeling sorry for her. As calm was restored the catering manager who had been called out from home too arrived on the scene. She was a stern woman who, upon surveying the scene and hearing what had happened, proceeded to launch into what I can only describe as a tirade of abuse aimed at the cleaner. The manager accused her of gross inefficiency and stupidity for allowing this incident to happen. Let’s be honest this was not what the cleaner wanted to hear. She was already clearly upset and feeling guilty and then to have this telling off sent her over the edge and she burst into tears. Now we had a situation that was distressing for the few people gathered in the immediate area and caused much embarrassment.
The memory of that incident is still vivid in my head and it taught me many things about managing people.When people have made a mistake the last thing they need to be reminded of in an aggressive way is that they have made that mistake and thereby made to feel like some immature cretin with no intelligence.
Of course there is clearly a time and a place for a ticking off when merited. As adults, and particularly as managers, with responsibility for managing people, we should surely understand and indeed have empathy with people who make genuine mistakes that do not amount to gross negligence.
I believe that when people have made a mistake they will invariably ‘punish’ themselves enough without the need for some arrogant and uncaring manager to rub salt in the wounds by balling them out in public.
Leadership Lesson - You don’t need to shout – people know when they have made a mistake.