About Leaders Burning Bridges

By | May 26, 2016

[May 26, 2016]  I’ve burnt many bridges in my time as an army engineer; blown them up, disassembled them, and crushed them with heavy equipment.  But that’s not my topic today.  Leadership means, among other things, to possess the capacity to work with people of all types.  To balance mission and people is difficult and yet that is what leaders do.  The advice correctly given to leaders is avoid burning bridges … if at all possible.

Yes … that’s an idiomatic phrase.  Sometimes, however, it’s not reasonable to avoid burning bridges to people who have a history of immoral, illegal, and unethical behavior.  I’ll admit the sage advice from my grandmother was to NEVER burn bridges but in some cases I didn’t listen to her.  To me it is the right thing to do to put distance between me and those who will not change their ways of being downright evil.

It is quite easy to burn bridges with others in the workplace.  But there are significant risks in the long term.  We will see those people sometime in the future and may have to rely upon them for assistance.  They will remember us and not be so kind.  Some of the common ways to burn bridges at work is to quit without notice, behave inappropriately, treat people with disrespect, lie, steal, cheat, etc.  Of course, leaders don’t do that … right?

I remember an officer from my time as a junior lieutenant.  He was a nasty person and his wife used the status of her husband to bully other spouses.  He didn’t do anything that directly violated military ethical standards but he pushed the limits of everyone and his wife aggravated everyone.  Many years later, after I’d burnt that bridge by telling him the truth, he was the commander of a unit that belonged to my same headquarters.  Our jobs required cooperation and it took many months and lots of pain to overcome our time as junior officers.

Military leaders should not be politically correct.  They tell it like it is.  Sometimes that means burning a bridge or two with people who are weak on ethics and proper behavior.  Everyone however should do their best to avoid burning bridges especially for unprofessional or unnecessary reasons.  A good friend of mine – retired military engineer – quit his job at a civilian engineer firm to take another job; he did so without notice.  This burnt many bridges.  Today he struggles to remain employed with the best engineer firms because they know of his past.

Leaders do everything reasonably they can to prevent the burning of bridges.  However, sometimes it is necessary to remain a good leader that a bridge or two will be burned … with prejudice.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I provide one article every day. My writings are influenced by great thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Jung, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Jean Piaget, Erich Neumann, and Jordan Peterson, whose insight and brilliance have gotten millions worldwide to think about improving ourselves. Thank you for reading my blog.

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