How To Have That Difficult Leadership Conversation 

There are few things more destructive to morale in a workplace as when there is a staff member causing havoc and no-one is willing to have that difficult leadership conversation with them which would quickly fix things. Perhaps they are not performing well in teir role or they are causing all kinds of relationship issues with inappropriate comments or behaviour, or (add your experience here…..)

For me, these are defining leadership moments! This is where you win or lose the hearts of team members.

Deep down, even the most difficult team member wants to make a fantastic contribution and know that their efforts are making a difference! This includes that insecure person who is so sensitive to criticism it makes it very difficult to help and train them.

That difficult leadership conversationOne of the marks of a true leader is they have the courage and the ability to train people and raise them up into a role and even better, into their potential.

In 30 years of leadership experience I have found that one of the keys to helping team members learn and grow is to be willing to correct and where necessary challenge them.

The best leaders have learned how to earn the right to be honest with people on their team by building a relationship where that person knows they care about them.

If a leader is secure, has built a good relationship, has competent communication skills (listening as well as speaking), is clear in their facts, and can handle a few tears or some initially defensive behaviour, then they will find that 9 times out of 10 there will be positive outcomes from deciding to have that difficult conversation.

I guess the reason many leaders avoid these conversations (one survey says 75% avoid if possible) is that they fear the 10% of times when a person reacts badly, creates a scene, quits their job or makes a complaint. They fear the ugly confrontation.

Like most fears though, the risk is far smaller than you think.

And, be warned: Problems avoided do not go away or diminish, they grow! The risk of negative consequences is far greater if the conversation is avoided! The earlier you step in and take the initiative, no matter how awkward it is at first, it will be easier than if you wait hoping the problem goes away.

10 keys that will help you have that difficult leadership conversation:

  1. Make sure you invest time in building relationships with your team. Take them for a coffee and get to know what they value, what are their values, what makes them laugh and cry, what inspires or makes angry, what motivates them. Bottom line: they need to know you care.
  2. Let your team know that you will be encouraging them for work well done AND correcting them when they need it as well in the interests of personal growth and achieving great team results.
  3. Expect the best from your team and you will tend to get it.
  4. Be consistent and be fair. No favourites!
  5. Be a good listener so people always feel understood.
  6. Be secure enough to admit when you get it wrong or when you learn something from others.
  7. Give praise publically and correct/challenge privately (unless they refuse to learn and after 1 or 2 private conversations it becomes appropriate, if affecting the whole team, to correct publically).
  8. Create an atmosphere of encouraging team accountability rather than judgement and fear about getting things wrong.
  9. Remember an honest mistake is a learning opportunity not a reason to criticize someone.
  10. Act sooner rather than later. Problems avoided always grow.

In my experience many of my best supporters were people who appreciated the fact that I cared enough to challenge them to do better. Rarely did a difficult leadership conversation lead to losing a team member, though every time I knew that possibility was there.

To me this is one of the marks of true leadership.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments……

INTEGRATE: Why Work Life Balance is a Myth | John Drury

Integrate: Why Work Life Balance is a Myth and what you really need to create a fulfilling lifestyle

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