Gunner, Standards, and Good Health

Gunner, Dave's dog, laying on the ground

We lost Gunner, our eldest dog, on Sunday.  We adopted Gunner in 2016 as an adult dog with known health issues.  The Humane Society didn’t know the cause nor have a treatment for his problems.  Some months after adopting him a life-threatening situation arose.  After dealing with the acute issue, we sought out a specialist.  This led to Gunner being put on Cyclosporin for life.

Over the ensuing years, several other medical issues came up and he ended up on 6 different daily medications. Three months ago he was diagnosed with cancer.  Chemotherapy was out of the question because of all the meds he was on.  We brought him home knowing Sunday would come sooner than we wanted.

On Sunday we realized the end was nearing. It started out as a good day for him, he rolled on the grass, ate his food enthusiastically, and, with the exception of some symptoms I don’t need to get graphic about, seemed to be doing OK.  Our hope was that we could bring in a vet to put him to sleep at our home, where he would be comfortable.  We had done this with other pets and it is much better than a veterinarian’s office or hospital.  By Sunday night it became clear that he was decompensating and we made the decision to let him go.  This was simultaneously an easy and difficult decision.  While I appreciate the sympathy you may be feeling, I am not writing about Gunner to garner it.  There is actually a compelling leadership lesson here.

We needed to make the decision to take Gunner to the 24-hour Emergency Veterinary Hospital or wait until Monday to bring a vet to our home.  Waiting for Monday would have been the path of least resistance.  It was late, past the time we normally would go out.  The vet was 30 minutes away.  If you’ve never been to a pet emergency hospital the wait can be as bad as the ER at your local hospital.  We also had to fight the urge to mentally minimize his discomfort.  He didn’t appear to be in pain but he was clearly distressed.  For us, the decision was evident.  While letting him go was hard, holding on to him would have been far worse.

As I was driving back from the Vets Sunday night it occurred to me that I had faced this situation in business many times over the years.  In fact, I had just had a conversation with a client about it last week.

I was conducting a post-retreat action call with a client that had attended my Accountability Academy in December.  The call was to review the progress on the 90-day action plan we had put in place.  A question came up about a team member who was perpetually late for work.  I confirmed that my client had spoken to the employee, explained the impact of his behavior, gave him support in correcting the behavior (in this case offering tips to get there on time such as planning on being at the office 15 minutes earlier), and finally detailing the consequences of failing to meet this requirement.  The team member had been through their progressive discipline and it was time to let him go.  The problem was the Operations Manager was arguing against it.

The Ops Manager argued that letting him go would put a burden on the rest of the team.  Like many companies, they are challenged to find replacements and they were already understaffed so clients would suffer.  To avoid this the Ops Manager would have to fill in the gap when he felt overworked already.  In other words, the Ops Manager wanted to “wait until Monday.” This was a selfish recommendation couched in what was good for the team and the clients.

If the Ops Manager had asked himself what was best for the employee, he would have realized that the employee wasn’t happy.  People don’t show up late to something they enjoy doing or to a place at which they want to be.

In addition, being late caused a host of other problems like

  1. If the employee was showing up late to work, that would also be reflected in missing deadlines. People who are not good with time constraints are not good with ANY time constraints.
  2. Either other team members are making up for this employee’s lateness or their clients were suffering.
  3. The employee’s behavior would spread. After all, if he doesn’t need to be on time, why should anyone else?
  4. Other employees who don’t want to give in to the temptation to take time lightly will feel under-appreciated and seek an environment where being on time was appreciated.

As you can see, like cancer, putting up with inappropriate behavior will metastasize and spread infecting your entire organization.  If your business, like Gunner, has other health issues it becomes more difficult to treat.  Yet, left untreated, eventually, your business will suffer greatly.

The cure is to set your standards and hold everyone, including yourself, to those standards.  Be the team member you want other team members to emulate and then hold them to your personal standard.  When someone fails to live up to your standard, let them know and if it continues, let them go.

Let me know what new standard you are going to demonstrate or enforce in the next 30 days.


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