Jim, an engineer at a high tech electronics firm, called me on the phone about three months after a leadership training workshop and said, “I just wanted you to know that class saved my job.” He has quite a temper and several times, he let it get the best of him. On one occasion, he grabbed his supervisor by the collar and pushed him into a wall of lockers. That is, of course, grounds for immediate dismissal – justifiably so. His supervisor, however, decided to give him one more chance. If Jim would agree to attend the leadership training workshop and commit to mastering the skills and applying them on a day-to-day basis, he would recommend probation rather than dismissal. Jim was an excellent student and worked really hard to use the skills and to keep his cool. Apparently it worked. He is still working there and just recently got a promotion. Jim’s supervisor saw something in Jim that was worth saving. He was willing to give him one more chance.
There are many such stories about second chances in organizations. One such story involves an executive in one of the biggest, most successful computer companies in the world. The young executive made a whopper of a mistake that cost the company several million dollars. Fully realizing how badly he had messed up, he went into his manager’s office fully expecting to be fired. Surprisingly, his boss said, “Fire you? Why would I fire you? I just spent millions of dollars on your education.” The last thing he wanted to do was send this young executive off to the competition. Everything he learned from the mistake would then go to the competitor.
A forklift driver in a major consumer products company somehow managed to back his forklift into and partially through a wall of the building. Clearly at fault, most of the management at the facility wanted him fired. His boss, however, opposed the firing on the grounds that he, more than anyone, would exercise caution in the future. In fact, he won the argument and put the forklift driver in charge of safety education.
“As a leader your response to failure is vital. Punish people and projects for failure and watch the pressure-cooker combust or get closer to combustion. However, if you give people second chances you can begin to release the pressure.” All organizations are systems of relationships and an important part of leadership training should be to help leaders learn the skills that will help build and maintain those relationships for the long term.
So, how many times should you give someone another chance? “Turn the other cheek?” Try, try again? Hard to say, but it is an important part of being a leader. Part of a leader’s job is to make judgments. Otherwise, why have leaders, just use the rulebook. Jim, the high-tech executive, and the forklift driver should all have been fired according to the rules. In each case, a courageous leader intervened and said, “I know this person. They made a mistake but should be given a second chance They are worth it.” In each case the organization kept a highly committed team member, sent the message that people will be treated like human beings, and learned from their mistakes. Not a bad outcome.