As a leader, it is impossible for you to “unsee” something. You can’t observe a safety breach, overhear inappropriate language, watch someone mistreat a customer or catch someone out of the corner of your eye stealing company property and deny that you were aware of it.
To make matters worse, as a leader, you have to own what you observe. By this we mean, you have to take action.
The temptation to look the other way, ignoring the indiscretion, should be resisted at all cost. Even if you decide to take no action, then everyone present should know that you saw something and decided to take no action.
It would be inappropriate for you to simply choose to ignore the event.
If staff believe you have ignored an incident, it creates a range of possible negative outcomes.
At worst, it emboldens them to continue or start the same bad behaviour under the assumption it must be acceptable if their boss has observed it and let it pass.
A second possible outcome is that it encourages other staff to overlook similar inappropriate behaviours – believing that avoidance behaviour will be rewarded in the organisation. Or conversely, that speaking up will not be supported by their supervisor.
A third outcome may simply be that staff respect you less. They see you shirking your role and responsibility to tackle a difficult issue and holding other staff accountable for their behaviour.
Having a supervisor you don’t respect adds to your level of disengagement and makes roles in other organisations with other supervisors, more attractive.
Taking action requires courage and the support of your supervisor. Take time to speak with your supervisor and ensure you have her support to respond to indiscretions that you observe.
Ideally, this affirmation from your supervisor should be obtained before you need it. By having this support, pre-qualified, you can respond to issues immediately, knowing you have the back-up of your supervisor if required.
One more small step in the next 24 hours
Reflect on an occasion during your supervisory career when you observed inappropriate behaviour and decided to turn a blind eye.
Consider how you could have responded to the situation differently.
Now steel yourself for the inevitable occasion when you will be faced with a similar temptation, to overlook something that needs action. Commit to owning what you see.
What impact could this action have on your leadership success?
How likely is it you could implement this action successfully?