There was another horrible school shooting yesterday – a more common occurrence than anyone would like to admit. And this morning everyone is asking WHY. The key to this answer lies in leadership and the fact that people don’t do desperate things because of mistakes or simple wrongs against them – they do desperate things because of how you make them feel.

Leaders within any organization should take heed and recognize the role they play in creating an environment based on trust, respect and dignity.

  1. Establish performance and behavior standards – most employees (or students) strive to live up to the expectations of respected leaders, so establish reasonable expectations with input from respected members of the team and then communicate those expectations in a way that allows for dialogue. People generally engage in behavior that is rewarded, so be sure you’re rewarding the behavior you want. Remember, negative attention to some is considered a reward.
  2. Beware the “Zero Tolerance” policy – Pick your battles wisely and make sure you choose a course of action that fit’s the violation. Employees (and students) want to be treated fairly. Conduct a full investigation before making any decision on next steps and let the objective evidence discovered during the investigation determine any disciplinary action. Taking the easy way out by using a one size fits all approach isn’t leadership and will only serve to damage your credibility and effectiveness.
  3. Look for early warning signs and take appropriate action to change the behavior early – As with every situation involving workplace or school violence, there are ALWAYS warning signs. Shortly after yesterday’s shooting students reported they receive a text message the day before, but didn’t take it seriously. Be on the lookout for warning signs and take them seriously. Once you have investigated to determine the fact, take appropriate action to change the unwanted behavior. If you’re not sure what “appropriate action” is, ask yourself “How would I want to be treated in this situation?” before making any final decision. This extra step will help ensure that you’ve considered all reasonable alternatives before taking action. Remember, any action you take will make either a red, yellow or green light come on in every employee’s head. That’s not to say that if the light will be red or yellow you shouldn’t take the action, but it is a heads up that you should proceed with caution.

Yesterday’s school shooting in Ohio is a stark reminder that relationships are fragile and whether it’s a school or work environment, strong leadership is the key to making it all work.  Remember, whether it’s an employee/school shootings, EEOC claim, lawsuit or union campaign – people don’t do desperate things because you made a mistake, they do desperate things because of HOW you made them feel.  Reach out of your comfort zone and lead – your organization will thank you for it.