Insubordination: How Do Leaders Handle It?

Most organizations and teams are not pure democracies, in the end there is someone who is in charge. More often than we like to think this person in charge is asked to discipline a peer in cases of insubordination. Though we don’t like to think about it, insubordination does happen. Whether it is just the nature of a particular team member’s personality or someone just having a moment of rebellion how does a leader deal with insubordination adult to adult?

First and foremost having a standard in place with dealing with general and/or specific types of insubordination is key. In the corporate world this often comes in the form of an employee handbook—a document like this can be invaluable even for a very small business, that may be run more casually. It is far easier to have rules in place then to try to enforce something without precedent.

Some leaders, managers and bosses will accommodate successful team members who have rebellious personalities if they are getting the job done and fundamentally respect the leader, other team members and the organization. However, leaders should know that some team members may be annoyed or resentful by the accommodation style and leaders who use this style may loose their credibility with other team members if they are too loosey-goosey.

At the other end of the spectrum there is a strict leadership style in which decorum is of the upmost importance to the leader—sometimes to the point where any questioning of the leader is considered insubordination. Team members typically know exactly where the line is when this style is employed, however leaders will loose out on honest, critical feedback and may foster an atmosphere of fear and low morale.

While both these extreme styles have potential benefits and drawbacks, staying consistent is important. Inconsistent treatment of insubordination will inevitably lead to chaos, low morale and loss of respect. Playing favorites or allowing something on Tuesday, but then not on Thursday is a quick way to lay waste to any respect or credibility a leader as earned from her team.

Some believe the best way to handle insubordination, adult to adult, in a leader-to-team-member relationship is through immediate constructive criticism. Address the behavior politely, but firmly. Be as objective as possible about the transgression. While for many this will feel like the most uncomfortable and difficult option in the short term, in the long term this style may reap the most healthy team environment.

Why is Maintaining Motivation So Difficult?

In a recent article by the Quiet Leadership Institute, they take a look at the concept of “deliberate practice” from the book Peak: Secrets of the New Science of Expertise by K. Anders Ericsson, PhD, a leading psychologist in the area of expertise and Robert Pool, PhD, well known science and living writer.

The QLI defines deliberate practice as the “breakdown of expertise into a series of smaller, attainable practices.” And states that a deliberate practitioner creates and follows through on structured activities that focus on a small area to improve on within their expertise. This concept is somewhat like the mindfulness training that practitioners of Eastern philosophies use.

The QLI article quotes a section of Peak that focuses primarily on motivation. The excerpt tells readers a hard truth we can all recognize – that when we decide to learn something new, like playing the guitar or learning a new language the initial energy, motivation and interest we feel can lessen over time, sometimes very quickly, and we stop practicing as often.

Ericsson and Pool tell us that there are two primary mental road blocks. First, that when we think about expert practitioners in our fields we often assume they have “some rare gift of willpower or ‘grit’ or ‘stick-to-itiveness’ that the rest of us just lack.”

Ericsson and Pool assert this is a mistake for two reasons. First, there is very little evidence to support the idea that we have a quantifiable pool of willpower from which to draw.

However, Ericsson and Pool write that the bigger problem of will power is:
“the myth of natural talent … once you assume that something is innate, it automatically becomes something you can’t do anything about. This sort of circular thinking – “The fact that I couldn’t keep practicing indicates that I don’t have enough willpower, which explains why I couldn’t keep practicing” – is worse than useless; it is damaging in that it can convince people that they might as well not even try.”

The authors analogize improving performance to weight loss saying that those who are successful in losing weight over the long term are people who have “successfully redesigned their lives, building new habits that allow them to maintain the behaviors that keep them losing weight in spite of all of the temptations that threaten their success.”

Brian Tracy

“It doesn’t matter where you came from. All that matters is where you are going.”
~ Brian Tracy

You have to have heard of Brian Tracy. He has many books about self-confidence, reaching goals, achievement, leadership, business training, and time management just to name a few.

Brian Tracy was born January 5, 1944 in Vancouver, British Columbia. He was born into a poor family. He dropped out of high school and was a dish washer and laborer living in boarding houses and occasionally his car. He later started selling and struggled to make a living. He was intrigued by what makes some people successful and others not.

By age 23, he began studying success and goal setting. He talked to successful salesmen and asked about their methods. He read what he could about it. He started setting goals. He eventually moved out of boarding homes and moved into an apartment.

By age 25, he was in management and had already built a large sales organization. He has since written over 40 books, has been a speaker for many years, consults with many of Fortune 500 companies. It was his hard life that helped fuel his success. In his 30s he went to college at the University of Alberta and earned his Masters in Business.

He is married with four children.

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Brian Tracy Quotes