Mistaking Kindness For Weakness
Posted by Mitch Mitchell on May 6, 2011
Many years ago when I was in a position of authority I had an employee that just wasn’t cutting it. Not only was she not able to keep up with the work but she wasn’t even really trying.
She’d been there before I got there and pretty much felt that she was untouchable, no matter what she did. I met with her 3 times about her performance and behavior, and documented each time I had a counseling session with her. Nothing seemed to get through to her. Then one day, a Thursday, I called her down to human resources and fired her. She just stared at me, but didn’t say anything. She knew that we’d had the conversations and that I’d warned her the last time that she only had one more chance, and she’d blown it.
The next day one of my other employees came into the office and said “I always thought you were really nice, but that was kind of a mean thing to do.” I said “I did my job. Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.” And that was that.
Often people think that because some of us are fairly easy going that we’re weak and don’t know what we’re doing. I don’t know how many times in my life I’ve had to dispel that one. I’m not overly intense. I don’t berate people for making mistakes. In all the years where I was in a leadership position I lost my temper three times with employees, and in none of those cases did I yell.
In other circumstances, where I had to deal with peers that either didn’t perform their jobs, which impacted what I had to do, I would encourage and remind and try to cajole to a certain point. When I knew that nothing I did was going to produce a result, I’d go a much different and direct route. I didn’t just go for that day’s victory; I went for a permanent reminder of how things had to be. I established precedents because I didn’t want those types of things to become the norm. If it impacted my department, which meant cash, which meant it impacted the entire business, I’d have to admit I was kind of ruthless. It was never personal; it was always about the job.
I actually only had to do that sort of thing a few times before word got out that I would “go there”. And it was understood that I had been fair, that I had tried to get what was needed through direct means with them, even offering to help most of the time. At work, one can be nice and still work hard in getting the job done, working to the best of their ability, and if need be work with others in trying to help them get the job done.
In any business or relationship, the biggest mistake anyone can make about someone else is underestimating them based on their daily behavior. I have seen the most mild mannered people fly into rages when they feel they’ve been wronged. I have seen overly talkative and boisterous people clam up when they’re asked to stand in front of a lot of people to make a presentation. And obviously I’ve met a lot of people that have a lot of years in a business yet have no idea how to do their job or what the most important things about their job they need to know better.
Mistaking kindness for weakness is probably what happened in my previous post on respect. No one wants to be taken advantage of over and over, and it’s a sign that someone believes you’re weak. I don’t say this to encourage anyone from being what they are, especially if you’re a nice person. I say this to encourage you not to allow anyone to step all over you on a consistent basis, no matter your position or theirs.