Manager Attitude

By Dr. Larry Pfaff

Managers often ask me for advice concerning discipline problems they are having with their employees. Frequently I discover that the problem in question is not so much a matter of something "wrong" with the discipline process, but rather with the manager's attitude about what it means to discipline.

It is axiomatic that a manager who does not understand what discipline is all about will not discipline effectively. Proper attitude must precede proper execution. When asked how they discipline, managers will often talk about a set of rules and the procedures to enforce them. But, there is something critical missing in this definition.

To be fair, one cannot discipline without rules, and a rule that is not consistently enforced is not a rule, but merely a wish; but enforcing rules alone will not make for good discipline.

Discipline is the process by which a manager turns an employee into a loyal disciple, someone who follows the manager's lead. Discipline is all about leadership, not legalism; teaching, not policing; proper communication, not just proper use of procedures.

It's important to understand that just because someone occupies a leadership position does not mean he or she is a leader. Leadership is not a matter of IQ, socio-economic status, the schools one attended, academic achievements, or the books one has read. It's a matter of a certain attitude, one that conveys a calm, self-confident natural authority.

Beyond that, a manager must possess a certain "attitude" about the discipline process. The manager must believe that he/she is doing an employee a disservice by not correcting the employee's poor performance. Put another way, the manager must believe that he/she has an obligation to correct poor performance. To not correct poor performance is to not give an employee an opportunity to improve. Granted, it is not enough to merely tell employees about their poor performance. They must be told immediately, and in a caring, positive, constructive way how they need to improve.

There needs to be an expectation of and an emphasis on the positive, on what needs to be done, rather than on the negative, what is not to be done. Good discipline is not a matter of techniques and methods, but a matter of attitude. This attitude was conveyed in the manager's posture, tone of voice and facial expression. It is conveyed not only in the way that the manager points out the poor performance, but how the manager gives constructive suggestions for improving that performance.

Proper discipline (and leadership) is compelling, not persuasive. Persuasion is the tool of the politician -- someone who is sensitive to public opinion and therefore attempts to avoid making unpopular decisions. As such, politicians are often equivocal. Leaders, on the other hand, compel people to their point of view. They have no problem making unpopular decisions. Leaders are unequivocal; what they say, they mean. They have no problem correcting performance, because they have the right "attitude" about it.

Please send any comments, questions or suggestions to Dr. Pfaff at

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