Doing the Undesirable: A Leader’s Challenge

There are things that we all dread doing.  At home, it may be something as simple as cleaning the garage, working on the yard, or even washing the car.  I know that I avoided all three necessities last weekend.  In our professional lives, it could be completing that big project, discussing an issue with a customer, or attending a long corporate meeting.  We all can identify those things in our personal and professional lives that we would rather put off thinking about and doing.

Although there are some major ramifications that can arise from procrastinating in our personal lives, as leaders waiting to deal with things that need action can be very detrimental.  A big part of our job as leaders is to make decisions and typically, a high percentage is “tough” in nature.  The easy way to deal with this pending undesirability is to wait and not take any action.  That is the tried and true “hoping it will go away” approach.  However, when we wait or hope an issue disappears, we are eroding the team’s confidence in our abilities, diminishing our own performance, reducing team performance, and preventing a more optimal alignment of resources.  Simply, we are hurting everyone including ourselves.

How can we improve our skills?  Most tough decisions require giving someone some type of bad news.  For illustration purposes, let’s use performance management as an example. Managing performance is fundamental to organizational success at all levels and a key part of any manager’s job.   Nevertheless, most leaders dread discussing employee performance, conducting performance evaluations, and providing feedback.  So, how can we prepare for setting with an employee who thinks they are a star and discussing why they need to improve or leave?

  • Plan – Being prepared is critical to feeling comfortable in any situation.  Plan what you want to say, how to say it, and how to make the results easy to understand.
  • Manage expectations – Shock can have a profound and unfair effect on someone.  If a person assumes that they are a star and that is not the case, the leader did not do his or her job.  Employees need to know where they stand and how they can improve throughout the year.
  • Explain – Be ready to provide an explanation of the results.  Regardless of the news, it is important to know details, causes, and potential solutions.
  • Separate yourself from message – It is important that employees understand that messages are not personal.  When someone hears bad news, it is easy to blame the messenger.  It is important that a leader separates him or herself from the bad news by acknowledging other conditions and factors that lead to the current situation.
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