It was a routine, random security check at the back door of our hospital, just past the timecards where she had clocked out. Rarely was anything found, but our practice existed to discourage theft. The security officer later said as soon as he stopped her, she had an anxious look on her face. When she laid all her belongings from her bag on the table, there was a box of tissues that you couldn’t purchase in a store. It was unopened hospital property, not hers. Like all organizations, ours didn’t condone theft. A decision on her future employment would need to be made.

Here are some additional pieces of information that were considered.

  • She had been employed with us for 30 years
  • She was close to retirement
  • Her employment record was solid, no performance issues ever
  • Some her family members worked for us
  • She was a minority race (I wish this wasn’t a factor in decision making, but we must be aware of it to assure how we treat people is not discriminatory)
  • She was well liked by those she worked with
  • She had a bad cold

Would you want to make the decision about her future employment? Is it an easy decision?

Would you terminate her employment?

Would you suspend her, but keep her as an employee?

Is there another option?

What are the consequences if you do terminate her? What are the consequences if you don’t terminate her?

Now it’s decision time. If you were her supervisor, what would you do?

Done. But what if the circumstances were slightly different? Would it impact your decision, if:

  • She had been employed for only 18 months
  • Her employment record was spotty with some performance issues
  • She had few friends and supporters in her department

Would it change your decision? Is your decision the same?

Some might read the original scenario, as well as the altered circumstances and would make the same decision. They would say it’s a simple decision, she violated policy and stole, she should be fired. The value of the theft, which may have been worth $1.00-$2.00 (tissues aren’t expensive), doesn’t matter, it’s theft. End of story.

I’ve worked with leaders through the years who saw everything through a lens that only saw “black or white”, grey didn’t exist. The question they loved to ask was, “what does our policy say?” They aren’t wrong for that view, and policies are important. But I think they miss one of the key reasons we have leaders, those grey areas. Its why leaders are not only necessary, but critical. Think about it, if you are a leader and everything to you is either black or white, or it’s based on policy, why do we need you? Artificial Intelligence (AI) can take over for you.

I’ve spent my career helping leaders make people decisions. Those were always in “the grey” and difficult. Why? Because each person is unique and their work experiences are distinctive to them, they are never the same. You may have similar situations, but never the same. Whatever you decide, everyone will talk about it, but no one will say “good job” to you. It’s just part of being a leader.

You are tasked with making the best decision for the organization and for the people who work there. That’s never easy. Leaders set the boundaries. What you allow, you will get. If you don’t enforce your boundaries you tend to get what you don’t want. Yet not all boundaries are the same. You must know which ones need to be like a “line in the sand”, for which there must be consequences? You must also know which are the boundaries where there can be some flexibility. You can’t run from making a decision either because no decision is really a decision.

If you find “people” decisions easy, I’m concerned about you. Remember you are a human and so is the person you must decide about. The gifted manager must be firm, and when it relates to integrity even rigid, but they also know when to show grace and mercy.

For the Holy Spirit, God’s gift, does not want you to be afraid of people, but to be wise and strong, and to love them and enjoy being with them. 2 Timothy 1:7

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