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Employment Tribunal

8 Leadership Lessons from an Employment Tribunal Judge

When we needed to support one of our much-loved clients through employment tribunal proceedings, we were delighted when the final decision went in their favour. In good conscience, we believe finding in favour of our client, the employer, was the right outcome for the situation. However, in true Organic P&O Solutions style, we also took the opportunity to identify some learning from the process. After all, we don’t plan to be there again anytime soon!

There is plenty of learning to be taken from many perspectives. In this blog, we look at how the Tribunal Judge conducted herself and the proceedings. There were clear parallels for leaders of organisations of all shapes and sizes and our highlights were:

  1. The Judge commanded authority from the get-go. Not once disrespectfully, and everyone complied gracefully with her requests. What we observed was how her authority was accepted, not because of status, but in response to her manner, clarity about what she expected and in the calm, thoughtful, empathetic and assertive voice that she used consistently.
  2. The Judge’s focus was as clear as crystal for the entire time we were in session. If there was a concentration lapse, it went undetected, and we were watching! She was also clear about how she worked, what and when she needed to do something for herself, and what and when she needed things from others around her. She followed her own processes and adapted her activity as issues emerged. She had other things to do, that’s for sure, but not once did we know about anything other than the matters at hand.
  3. There was complete and unrelenting concentration on understanding the facts without drawing judgements. For two days, not even a raised eyebrow from the Judge in response to any information. If you’re not familiar with the tribunal process, then we have another blog coming about navigating through it. For now, know this. Evidence comes from witnesses who are nervous and have a high stake in the outcome on both sides. So this was someone who was listening acutely, facilitating constantly, typing her own record as she went and ensuring she took in the right information – verbal and non-verbal. That’s a serious communication skill set!
  4. When there was a lack of clarity in the room, the Judge ensured she stopped the conversation. Paused. Stated clearly what she had heard and noted, and then in turn for each party, ensured there was acceptance or not. She didn’t move forward until there was understanding across the room about what was being dealt with and why.
  5. When she didn’t understand something herself, the Judge politely asked for clarification. There was no doubt that her questions had purpose and there were no apologies needed for asking them. Even when the answer was simple. This was possibly because she was clear with the person she was speaking to, about why she was asking what she asked, before asking each quality, pertinent question. Without fail, she listened, relayed back what she had heard, took time to note the answer and then invited the parties to continue.
  6. Understanding didn’t assume agreement. Judgements were not based on opinion, even when this was on offer! Facts didn’t go unexplained or undisputed. Where there was an impasse, a decision needed to be made by the Judge. But during proceedings this was noted and parked for consideration until it was judgement time, which meant after all the evidence had been heard.
  7. Preparation with the right information made best use of time available. The standard practice of employment tribunal judges is to read through the case information before the case begins. This means they are familiar with the facts of the case, timelines etc. and can be clear about the issues being addressed. It was clear that this judge had ensured she was familiar with all information and asked questions that would add to her understanding. There was no time wasted in covering ground she had read already or could refer to later.
  8. The judgement that was delivered represented an unrelenting accuracy of the evidence. The timeline and backstory were articulated succinctly and the conclusions drawn were supported with evidence. Where there was no way of knowing from the evidence who had said, what, to whom etc. a conclusion was drawn based on the likelihood of what must have happened, based on the facts. It was read out (so written up before hand) and delivered on time. The manner was assertive, polite, firm and confident.

You can probably tell by now that we were really impressed with how this particular Tribunal Judge conducted the proceedings, and can honestly say that based on how she handled the case, we concluded before we heard the judgement, that whilst we thought it should go our way, if it didn’t we would respect her decision and learn from it. For us, that’s the key takeaway. At some point, a decision had to be made that meant someone lost and somebody else won. The objective wasn’t to delight the winner, it was to ensure the everyone fully respected and understood the reason for the decision, including those who lost. Our Judge achieved that goal in this case and to us that’s true leadership skill.

So, on your development plan, what’s your next leadership development goal? What could you focus on to take your leadership and communication skills to the next level, so your team want to help you achieve your goals?

If you could use our help with your leaders and teams, we’d love to hear from you. To find out more about what we do and how we can help visit our Leadership Development or HR Services pages.

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