Leaders Are Honest About Their People

One of Jack Nicholson’s most famous movie lines (he has many) is “You can’t handle the truth!” from A Few Good Men, and it’s often true for all of us, especially as leaders. This past year, I’ve been sharing this uncomfortable truth, which has been disrupting leaders across the world through my message:

Your leadership, culture and impact (or lack thereof) is not defined by what you preach, but by what you tolerate.

This is a tough truth – a challenging truth – because it causes us to assess not only what we’re tolerating, but the wide range of impacts (usually negative) that our tolerance is creating. It’s a difficult pill to swallow, but it also is a truth that can shift us into more consciousness and help us take action by making different decisions about our tolerance. Uncomfortable? Yes. Vital? Yes.

One key area of tolerance for all of us as business leaders is being honest (or failing to be honest) about our people, including what they need to succeed, whether, where, and how much we’ll invest in them, and even whether they will remain with the organization. To be clear, tolerance relates to behaviors and performance that fail to meet expectations. To simplify and clarify this important assessment process, I’ve developed an evaluative set of categories  to help you make better decisions about your people and their place in your team.

The following five categories for your team members (IF you’re willing to be honest in your evaluations) will quickly help you better evaluate your team members and make decisions about their future in your business and with your team.

  1. Doesn’t Care and Doesn’t Get It – This person does not care about the business or the team, is primarily or exclusively focused on themselves and are not willing or able to engage with the business, the team or the mission. In addition, they don’t fully understand their job or position. They may not be a complete failure, but you know what I mean. In this case, you don’t even have to figure out if they can get it because their lack of caring is the decisive factor. The simple answer here is that this person needs to be respectfully removed from the team.
  2. Doesn’t Care and Does Get It – This is a tricky situation and one where we find some of the highest incidence of negative impact through tolerance. This person does not care about the business or the team and is highly self-focused. The problem (potentially) is that they are very good at what they do (or parts of what they do) and they do deliver value to the organization. In most businesses, this is the person (and the tolerance) that can be toxic for the organization. Perhaps it’s simply a matter that they’re not a team player, which is tolerated, while the rest of the team is expected to be a team player. It may even be that they engage in highly disruptive or abusive behavior toward the rest of the team. In any case, this group of people are the ones that we justify based upon their contributions to the organization’s success, but we fail to consider or honestly assess their overall impact when factoring in all the negative impacts beyond the value they bring. This is perhaps one of the most difficult decisions leaders have to make, and the toxic impact of this kind of person on the team, culture and organization is one that leaders are most likely to fail to see (or admit). There’s not an obvious answer here other than to fully and honestly assess this person’s overall impact and then make a conscious decision about whether they stay (perhaps with coaching) or you let them go for the overall good of the team and organization.
  3. Does Care and Does Get It – These people care, they get it and they add great value to the team, culture and organization. The people who both care and contribute with their performance are your gold standard, and they need to be encouraged, supported, nurtured and rewarded. Just make sure you don’t take them for granted because you’re investing so much of your time and energy on the people who don’t care or who are not performing.
  4. Does Care, Doesn’t Get It but Can Get It (you believe) – These people do care, but they have not yet been able to deliver as hoped or expected, yet you have a strong and rational belief that they can get it. Once again, a simple solution – these are the people to invest in with mentoring, training and perhaps coaching. We always want to invest in people who care and hopefully get them to where they need and want to be in helping the team through their performance.
  5. Does Care, Doesn’t Get It and Can’t Get It – Sometimes all the caring, training and mentoring in the world does not get people where you need them to be. In these situations, the first step is to explore whether there’s another position in your organization where they can get it and add value. When someone cares, letting them go should be our last resort. If you can’t find another position for them and they just can’t get it anywhere in the organization, then you want to help them find a better place and fit.

Five simple and deeply valuable ways to assess your team members in order to make informed and critical decisions about their future with your organization. These categories also help you determine where and in what ways to invest in them (or not to invest in them at all).

When you’re ready to be honest with yourself and about your people, this evaluation process will put you in the best position to make leadership decisions (albeit perhaps difficult decisions) for the best interests of your people, your team, your culture and your organization.

Can you handle the truth? Now is the time to find out if you’re willing to be honest with yourself about your team members. Remember, what you tolerate will have more of an impact on your team, culture and results than anything that you choose to create or pursue. It’s time for the truth!

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