What can a Leader Do About Disobedience?

Is disobedience a sign of disrespect?

Disobedience is defined by the World Book Encyclopedia (I went old school and used an actual dictionary printed on paper) as a refusal to obey, or failing to follow orders or rules, rebellious.  Disrespect is a lack of respect or rudeness, impoliteness, discourtesy.  And respect is the condition of being held in high regard, honour, esteem.
So a lack of respect is not holding someone or something in high regard, honour or esteem which is likely conveyed via rudeness of some sort. Where disobedience is a refusal, rebellion or failure to follow orders and rules, I think we can make the refusal or rebellion part mean a lack of respect.  Or at least that is not a far jump for me to make.
Some parents call it sassy or lippy when their children talk back. Some employers call is insubordination when employees don’t show up on time for work. Some people think respect should be earned not necessarily inherent or absolute because of the position, title or age. Some people think respect doesn’t matter. Some people think disobedience has nothing to do with disrespect. 

So what if your employee is being disobedient and/or not following the rules? What does that mean and what can you do about it?
Those are good questions. If you want to be a leader who is respected it is important to understand there will be times that you are not popular and perhaps, not liked. If your goal is to befriend your team and have them like you – you are not a leader, you are a follower because you are allowing them to guide you not the other way around. You choose your influence.
My number one recommendation to anyone with a disobedient employee is to bring them back to the agreement you made. Take for example someone who is consistently late for work; what is your agreement? They agreed to be there at a certain time and work until another time with agreed upon breaks and you agreed to pay them for that time at an agreed upon remuneration.  So, if they are not keeping their end of the deal what is your recourse?  It is to hold them accountable and let them know that their pay will reflect their hours works, but make it clear – that their inability to work as agreed means that they have changed the agreement, so your end of the agreement needs to change as well.  I also think it is very important that adults are treated like adults, so it is vital that they understand this is their choice. They changed their agreement so you are just catching up. 
Now this only works if you have not condoned the late behaviour by allowing them to believe that lateness is acceptable.  If you have made that faux pas then you have to own your lack of leadership by apologizing for leading them to believe that being late is okay, when in fact, it is not, and then explain what has to change.
In both instances you may experience their discontent but I also think you will experience more respect, maybe not right away but not that long after. People like boundaries and they like to test them as well. Your job as a leader is to ensure they know the boundaries – so communicate, communicate, communicate. Your other job is to make sure the boundaries are being respected. Your job is to modify boundaries as your work and business changes, then communicate that and to always ensure fairness to all while enforcing respect for those living within the confines of the boundaries.
Here is a life example. We have a 12 year old who is permitted to wear makeup. She was clearly going outside the boundary of eyeliner and lip gloss. I was prepared to lie in wait and hammer her with a surprize attack to communicate she wasn’t getting anything past me!  My husband insisted we should be fair and let her know the consequence for disobedience before launching the bomb. After much deliberation I conceded that he was correct. So I shared the rules with her at breakfast – eyeliner and lip gloss – and also shared that it appeared to me she had been wearing more than that which was immediately met with ‘no, I’m not!’ This reaction was also telling. If she wore more makeup than approved she would have to take it all off and go without that day. If it happened again, she would lose it and have to earn it back. Her displeasure was snared up on her face and her overall anger was well communicated. But guess what?  That didn’t last. What has lasted is a very good adherence to the makeup rules.  This is a plain day parenting example that I bet will be similar to your own experiences in the work place. 

I communicated the rules, I communicated the boundaries, I did not mind if she was angry in that moment. I did not let her be disrespectful but I did let her be angry. Because she gets to be angry when she doesn’t like the situation.  And she gets to know I’m not going to back down from my commitments because she’s angry, she gets to learn that anger is not a tool.
If you are willing to not be liked then you will be rewarded. By not allowing disobedience you are promoting respect.  By not allowing boundary breakers you are enforcing fairness. 

You are in charge, you lead the way, you be strong, you do the work, you take the high road and you get to reap the reward.  
1Comment
  • T Reashore
    Posted at 23:41h, 02 February Reply

    Whence the tears break out during 'counseling' [work], my practice was always to hand over the box of Kleenex, and announce that we would re-commence when I returned in 10 minutes. You [they] may not like the issue at hand, you may be mad, may not agree with your boss's direction, but I refused to let the drama lama's highjack the [usually one way] discussion.

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