The Importance of Being Earnest

For some reason today I was reflecting on two of the worst teachers I had when I was in school (back around the Ice Age) and just why they were such terrible teachers.  I suppose that other than their lousy personalities, it would have had to be their passive-aggressive nature when it came to the enforcement of rules. Since I know a few officers who run their crews with this same kind of behavior (passive-aggressive behavior, that is), I thought it might be a good issue to discuss.

When reflecting on both of these teachers, I realize did not comply with what they considered to be the norm. I am not defending my behavior in any stretch of the imagination- I was certainly wrong, but instead of providing early remediation and corrective feedback, both of these teachers continued to allow the problem to fester until the end of each marking period, in which case they lowered the boom with a failing grade.  It's not like I was even failing in either of their classes because of my inability to grasp what they were teaching.  In each of these cases, my answers were nearly perfect on each quiz and examination- but it was a case of not following their specific rules, which in each case, trumped those of knowing the subject matter.  It should have been a lesson to me each time; when someone has absolute power and insists on your absolute adherence to the rules, the SMART thing to do is to comply (leaving the situation isn't an option at that age, but it is in your career).  But like many people at that rebellious stage in our lives, I resisted those efforts twice and was twice rewarded with a round of summer school.

The whole point of that, however, was that had I realized what I was doing wrong was going to cause me circumstances I certainly did not desire, I would have likely changed my course of action.  How many times have you had an employee, at evaluation time, say to you, "I didn't know you had a problem with that" when giving them a less than satisfactory score on a subject?  Why didn't they know it?  If the answer is, because I didn't say anything to them all year, then you are doing them and yourself a big disfavor.

Later in my life, I have seen officers that turn their heads when people do something wrong, then are upset later when things don't work out between them and the subordinate.  Did you somehow reinforce that their behavior was acceptable by failing to address the problem directly and immediately? You bet.

Especially in this time of intergenerational conflict, as the young officers of tomorrow are learning their trade and those of us who have been around for years are planning for retirement, it is imperative that we establish our expectations and are clear with each other as to the specifics and the timelines in which we consider the job done acceptably, or unacceptably.

Don't find yourself wishing you had been more candid with your charges when evaluation time comes around.  Take a moment to have a discussion with your people about what your vision is and how you choose to see it implemented.  Avoid all the wailing and gnashing of teeth with a little chat now, and it will pay dividends multifold later.

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