How Leaders Approach Development

This post is by SEI’s Chief Operating Officer, Dwight Strayer.  If you’d like to guest post on this blog please contact me.

As a leader, how do you handle an employee who is not meeting your expectations?

In my experience, I’ve found that the problem does not always begin with the employee.

Often, leaders fail to communicate one of the most important messages to their employees, the what.

Not “what I expect from you,” but rather “what I expect from your role in the organization.”

It’s an important paradigm shift that has the power to remove defenses and change behavior.

Leadership can be difficult because leaders must remove emotion when coaching and developing employees.  It can be difficult to do because it’s not easy when, as a leader, you have to pick up “the slack” for someone else or when an employee’s performance reflects poorly on you.

When leaders get emotional, the “what” often gets lost and many employees walk away from the conversation:

  • Without a clear picture of what they should do.
  • Without a clear picture of what they may have done wrong.
  • With a sense that they are being treated unfairly

The formula for a successful conversation is pretty simple, don’t focus on the person, focus on the job.

This is what’s expected from the [insert title] at our organization.”  

I’ve found that the best coaching conversations don’t include the words “you” or “I” and also don’t include a person’s name.  They focus on what the organization needs from a particular role.

Not using the words “you”, “I”, “someone”, “everyone” or “nobody” is hard- it takes practice and discipline.  But it can begin with our next conversation.  Like everything else in life, preparing and practicing in advance makes us better.  It’s in our nature to assume that everyone feels the same way that we do, but we’re not talking about feelings, we are talking about behavior and results.

When an employee shows up late, talks over people, misses deadlines, does not follow procedures, or makes mistakes, it negatively impacts everyone.

When you relate it this way, it’s easier to avoid defensiveness.  Possibly for the first time, they really think about their actions and the impact they have on others.  The most common response is exactly what I am looking for, “what can I do to change that?”  That’s when real development can take place.

It takes the emotion out of the discussion and forces clarity.  This method leaves little room for debate and lets people know exactly what the issue is, where you stand and where they stand.  It forces clarity on what they need to do to correct it.  As leaders, that should be our goal.