I bet you’ve heard that old saying before – Any time you point a finger at someone else, there are likely three fingers pointing back at you. A recent conversation gave me new insight into this concept.
A good friend of mine introduced me to “the most heart-based leader” she knows. She said he was the best manager for whom she had ever worked. For the purpose of this story, I’ll call him Frank. We were talking about the balance a heart-based leader must maintain between the needs of an employee and their responsibility to the organization. The conversation came around to what I call Tough Love in the Workplace. Frank shared with me an incident where he had to fire an employee (Ryan) and the care he took to be fair, open, and kind. I was impressed with the way he handled the situation, but that is not my story today.
“Many months later,” Frank confided, “I started to think about Ryan and wondered how I might have handled that situation differently.” Frank went on to say that he still believes that he made the right decision, but wondered how he might have contributed to Ryan’s failure. It struck me that he was taking a really extraordinary and rare position on a difficult decision. We started to brainstorm some ways in which one might be complicit in an employee’s failure:
Did you set realistic expectations?
“Right off the bat,” Frank said, “I realized that while the deadline was realistic with MY experience, it may not have been realistic with Ryan’s.” Be sure to explore with your team if they feel comfortable with the expectations you are setting.
Do they have adequate training or staff?
I remember a time when my manager asked me to engage “300 people on two shifts” in training for 3 days… with only myself and two other trainers. To accomplish the task, we needed to engage other trainers on contract.
Do they have the proper equipment?
I will never in my life forget my worst training experience. A company in Dallas, TX engaged me for 13 different training sessions on customer service because they were receiving complaints from their customers. On the very first day, I was confronted by the most hostile group of trainees ever! As it turns out… the employees were not the problem, and they resented being told that they were. For almost a year, they had been telling their managers that their call handling system was antiquated and dropping calls.
Did you provide timely follow-up (WITHOUT micromanaging)?
At the start of any engagement or assignment, establish with your employee how you will get status updates and an open invitation for them to seek help if necessary. Don’t wait until the project falls off the rails before you step in. If you are paying attention, there should be red flags along the way.
Think about the last person you reprimanded, gave a poor review, or fired. (Before you react, I will acknowledge that people who are fired or reprimanded most likely deserved it.) Ask yourself how you may have contributed to their failure. The purpose of this exercise is NOT to produce guilt in you or give you sleepless nights. For the benefit of your own development, identify how you may have contributed to that employee’s downfall and what you will do differently next time. We all make mistakes. A true heart-based leader is authentic and insightful enough to learn from those mistakes and growth.
Next month, I’d like to talk about finding balance for yourself and encouraging balance in your employees. Until then, thank you for giving me the opportunity to share new tips and ideas on heart-based leadership. If you have specific questions or topics you would like me to address I would love to hear from you! I would also love to have you join the discussion with me on FaceBook at https://www.facebook.com/LeadershipAndLove
(Footnote – I thought you might like to know that a couple years after the firing, Frank ran into Ryan and they had an opportunity to chat. Ryan shared how his new job is such a great match for his skills and interest. This is one example of an individual being fired only to find a better job for their skills.)