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Mix a sense of duty with compassion

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in Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

School principal Lorraine Monroe had finished a half-hour performance evaluation when the employee stood, paused and said:

“I just want to say that if you pass my classroom and see me staring out the window and not teaching, don’t be upset. It’s just that my husband stole my three children yesterday, and I don’t know where he took them.”

Monroe had to respond as both a boss and a compassionate person. Most managers are better at handling one or the other, but balancing them is what leaders do.

Monroe sat the woman back down. After a long pause to collect her thoughts, here’s what she said:

“You have my sympathy. As a mother, I know how heartsick and upset you must be. If you need to stay home, I will understand. And of course, I’ll do anything I can, personally or professionally, to help you.”

The employee smiled through her tears. Then came the hard part.

“But, you know,” Monroe added, “you made the decision to come to work today. So if you step into the classroom, you must teach. The children can’t pay the price for what your husband has done.

“Do you understand what I’m saying and why I’m saying it?”

After the teacher nodded, Monroe added that she’d advise working because it can be therapeutic. And she offered to listen whenever the employee needed to talk.

Other leaders may have taken the opposite tack, steering the employee away from work until the crisis was resolved.

Either way, the important thing is to balance the work with the life of the person doing it. While leaders are compassionate, the show must go on.

— Adapted from The Monroe Doctrine: An ABC Guide to What Great Bosses Do, Lorraine Monroe, Public Affairs, Perseus Books Group.

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