The tough stuff of leadership-When things get messy

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right thing.” 

Peter F. Drucker

The standard for being a leader is high-so many qualities and expectations. Getting it right makes a world of difference for followers.  Of course, character, empathy, basic skills of communication, organization and decision making are necessary. Those are the parts that are visible to followers. The less visible, messy, and harder parts, most people don’t see.  They include conflict, bad news, and uncomfortable conversations.

One of the truly hard parts of management and life is the human resource aspect.  Its OK when everything is going well, but when it isn’t, that’s when true leadership emerges, like when…

  • A staff member is under performing, /incompetent/unethical
  • A relationship turns sour
  • Workplace toxicity exists (More about this in a later post)

Under performing/Incompetent/unethical staff

New staff

The learning curve for new staff is steep so they will need some time to adjust to the work environment, a new work language, colleagues, etc. But…sometimes, you know it is not a good fit, and you need to let them go.  Most employers provide a probation period before the employee is hired permanently.  This is a time when both parties can assess the fit and decide what is best. This probation period is the time to make a hard decision of whether the person should stay or not.

A best practice is sharing job expectations.  Proper feedback will help the employee and employer decide if expectations can be met. This feedback will help them become more successful in the future if they take the advice. Giving feedback is hard, uncomfortable and the right thing to do.

Longer term staff

If someone has already been in the job for some time, and their performance has declined, it’s time to discuss why they are under performing and if it is correctable.

Leaders need to be willing to do the hard things, like confronting, giving honest feedback, and holding others accountable for meeting organizational expectations.  A part of the process includes providing support through mentorship, coaching, education, and monitoring the individual’s performance for improvement. If there is no change, or change is not possible, then let the person go, or help them find a fit with another job in the organization if possible. 

When relationships go sour

A relationship can go sour professionally or personally. When relationships starts to go sour, it’s time for some relationship management. If this relationship is important to you, begin the conversation honestly, let the person know this when you begin the conversation. Be clear about what the negative behaviours are, give examples and let them know what you expect instead. Not everyone knows that they are doing something wrong or bothersome. People will engage in this type of discussion more willingly, if it is respectful, rationale, calm, and factual, where both parties can speak up and listen to one another’s concerns.

Human behaviour is unpredictable and messy and is one reason these discussions are uncomfortable. 

My experience has generally been positive when these types of discussions have happened. I’ve been on the giving end and the receiving end. If I am the one who is initiating this discussion, I have decided that the behaviour is important for me to address no matter the outcome. If I am on the receiving end, I have had to keep open mind and listen because there may be a different perspective that I don’t see that is hurting the relationship. It’s not easy being on the receiving end., but is helpful if I put aside my ego.


 Key to the discussion is mental preparation, by:

  • Clearly describing the problem and giving examples of the behaviour
  • Providing the impact of the behaviour on you, the organization, project, relationship, etc.
  • Identifying what you would like changed, and how it would look
  • Outlining the consequences of continuing the behaviour

Don’t leave the conversation hanging without closing the loop by sharing next steps. Be ready to accept the consequences of the discussion, good or bad.

While it might seem easier to avoid the discussion and let it go, it impacts others involved. As a leader they expect you to address the problem, after all that’s what leaders do. When you choose to ignore the problem, it impacts the quality and effectiveness of your leadership.

It is a brave thing to either give or receive feedback, so let the other person know that you appreciate the time they took to be a part of the discussion.

Published by Diane Allen

Hi there, my name is Diane and welcome to my blog site! Leadership mindset is the mindset that embraces, vision, courage and action.

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