How do you explain someone actions and how do you explain your own actions? If you give it some thought you might acknowledge that how you explain them are very different. For example, someone is late to work because they are lazy or because something happened on the way to work? How you understand your and others actions will alter how people are perceived.
Attribution theory is a social psychological theory that relates to the way in which people explain their own behavior and that of others (Psychology Glossary).
When we try to explain the actions of others we look for internal attributes such as traits in a person’s personality. When for example someone is showing up late at work we tend to see this action as an attribute of their reliability. In a working relationship a complaint about salary can be seen as jealousy towards others.
When we explain our own behavior on the other hand we explain it on environmental and situational aspects, external attributes. I came in late to work today because there was an accident on the road so I had to stand in an unexpected queue. I am going to ask for a higher salary because my family is in a lot of financial troubles.
If we are too quick to make judgments on a situation we might not get the full picture. A leader must understand that not all actions from an employee comes as a consequences of their personality. In most cases there is an external reason behind their action. A person consistently showing up late at work might have very low job satisfaction and as a leader you must not dismiss the possibility that this behavior has been caused by the work environment or that there is something in their personal life affecting them. It could be family matters or even the simple fact that they commute every day and the transportation service is unreliable.
As a leader you must be able to asses the reasons for an action and not immediately only blame it on personality traits. Be humble and open enough to sit down and listen to your employees. If you are aware of this, you might try to help the employee resolve the issue. However if in worst case you come up with a solution both can agree on and the problem doesn’t go away, it could be an issue with the person and you might have to dismiss him.
But do the right thing first. I have seen many examples of managers blaming a person because of their personality and not even bothering addressing the issue. This is poor leadership.
Because, when you think about it, how often do you blame an action you make on your own personality traits and not the situation?