Some leaders get it. Some don’t. What can you do?


Responding to your team members – the stars and the strugglers – with commitment, care and courage.

During our recent European Tour with Bob Chapman and colleagues from the Chapman & Co Leadership Institute, Bob shared the message of Truly Human Leadership; the skills and courage to care more than a dozen times.

The warmth and reception to the message was palpable. No one disagreed with the idea that to treat others with dignity and respect and care was the right thing to do. Always. In all ways. Creating an environment where people know that who they are and what they do matters, where they feel connected to a meaningful purposeand feel equipped to generate high performance through a sustainable and thoughtful business model. 

During the week, a repeated question from the audience was “How do you deal with lower performers or those who don’t get it?”  The question itself was revealing; exposing a tendency to focus first on those who don’t get it or perform less well. In contrast, there was a notable absence of the question “What do you do for those who perform well and exemplify truly human leadership?”

These two questions have been on my mind ever since. I seek to address them in my reflections below, and I hope my thoughts and experiences are of value to you. 

Let’s start with the unstated question “What do you do for those who perform well and exemplify truly human leadership?” 

One of the lessons learned at Barry-Wehmiller is the impact of recognition. When team members are recognised for who they are, as well as what they do, they feel valued. When they feel valued, they add value to their family members, in their community, with their team and the organisation. Recognising your team members is one of the most valuable things you can do as a leader. A simple and impactful way to construct your message of recognition is:

  1. State the feelings that were generated in you by the other person’s actions.
  2. State the specific behaviour they exhibited; that which was observable.
  3. State the impact this had on you and others. 

Be specific, succinct and sincere in your delivery of such a message. This might sound like: 

“Thank you Mary for asking for my thoughts and giving me the opportunity to contribute my ideas and feelings at the senior partner meeting. Your encouragement moved me out of my comfort zone and I have now developed stronger relationships with the senior partners because of you.”

Now let’s move to the stated question “How do you deal with lower performers or those who don’t get it?”

You observe that one of your team leaders is performing less well. They are under pressure to accomplish results for their part of the business. They are not reaching the mutually agreed objectives nor demonstrating the indicators of success in alignment with your organisation’s leadership principles. Their team members are disengaged. 

It begins with listening

The first step is to connect with them, one-on-one, to establish how they are feeling and learn their perspective. Listen with empathy to discover what is going on for them. You’ll recall from my earlier posts, listening with empathy encourages you to acknowledge the feelings of others as well as the facts. Listening is one of the most helpful things you can do. It is worth mastering. 

It continues with asking questions 

Be interested and ask questions to help them see and think more. What do they think is going well? What are their key frustrations? To what extent are their limitations based on capacity or capability? What systems and processes are in place to support them or hinder them? Where do they see the gaps in what is expected of them, and from you as their leader?  

It works by treating them with dignity and respect, as someone’s precious child

If your son or daughter was not performing well at school, how would you be with them? Encourage them to think for themselves. Encourage them to come up with a solution for getting back on track. Encourage them to ask for support in practical skill building. Encourage them to develop a plan of action. Encourage them to hold themselves accountable. Support them to learn from when things didn’t go well. Encourage them to develop themselves and consider where could they do better, more or differently to accomplish the results they want for themselves. Acknowledge and celebrate their successes along the way for their effort, achievements and accountability.

Leading team members in this way will serve to inspire performance and accomplish results. 

Of course, in reality, there are times when, despite investing time in the conversations outlined above, individuals seem a mismatch within the team. They are under performing in the role they are in; unable to meet the objectives mutually agreed. They fail to realise the negative impact they have on their team members and are not aligned to the leadership principles and values of your organisation. 

Learning to confront unwanted behaviours

In my role as a coach, helping leaders to develop the skills to have open, honest conversations and confront unwanted behaviours is not uncommon. 

To navigate the situation with a team member who is under performing, after having the conversations highlighted above, is to confront the unwanted behaviours. The good thing is you have already developed the fundamental skills and steps. You can use a similar formula to the one above, only this time: 

  1. State the specific situation where the individual is under performing.
  2. State the specific behaviour they exhibited; that which was observable.
  3. State the impact this had on you and others. 

Be specific, succinct and sincere in your delivery of such a message. This might sound like: 

“During the client meeting, you continued to interrupt and speak over our team member Paul. You discounted his ideas in front of the client. The impact is that Paul is unlikely to speak up in meetings and we will miss out on his innovative ideas going forward. “

You might say, I have had these conversations with a team member and nothing has changed. In such situations, when you have adopted courageous patience, as defined by Bill Ury when he saw and learned about the leadership practices at Barry-Wehmiller, there comes a time when a different conversation ensues. 

It may be that the individual is not in the best role suited to their capabilities and capacity for growth. There are times when, as a leader, we need to let a team member go. If they are hurting the rest of the team and other key stakeholders, a courageous conversation will be the next step to determine the outcome of moving on or moving out. The key is to communicate with dignity and respect. With clarity and openness. With support and care. 

Stars and strugglers. Different issues. One common approach.

Leading people is not easy. Developing and sustaining relationships is not easy. They both require commitment, care and courage.

Thanks for reading!

If you’ve enjoyed this article, I’d love to hear from you. If you think it can help others respond to team members with commitment, care and courage, please pass it on. Connect with me on LinkedIn or simply get in touch with me. 

Photo: Bob Chapman recognising a team member for who he is and what he is doing

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