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Five Tips for ‘Tough Talks’

Having what it takes to be in a leadership position is more than just being able to manage resources. Being a leader involves being there for people. Sometimes, being the leader that is there for people, also means having to have tough talks. Tough talks are, at times, essential to help other people grow and develop in their personal or professional development.

The most uncomfortable moments of your career will yield the most growth of those you share those moments. The tough talks you experience, if done correctly, can set a person up for a reflective look at their performance as well as the direction they are heading. Below are some tips to make the most out of an awkward conversation.

1 – Start with a goal in mind.
When you start to have your tough talk; know where you are heading with it especially if you are addressing a performance issue. Failure to do so on your part will make it look as if you are merely attacking a person. Remember, offer solutions, not just bring up problems.

2 – Be specific with examples.
It is a very frustrating thing to endure a conversation in which someone is being critical of your work, actions, or thought process but has no specific example of how you portray the deficiencies they are mentioning. If you critique someone as having a generally poor work performance, be sure to cite what makes the work product substandard.

3 – Address the issues promptly.
If you recognize an issue developing, do not let it fester. Address it quickly, do not allow it to become either acceptable performance or a bad habit. Additionally, if you are meeting with someone to discuss an issue, jump right in. Don’t sit around and circle the issue while making small talk. Chances are, the person may already know something is up, killing time adds to their anxiety.

4 – Point out good deeds.
There must be a building phase in addition to reprimanding. Surely each member of your team has some good quality about them. Either work-related or not, there is something about that individual that got them the job. Find that quality and build upon it.

5 – Develop a plan.
As a leader, it is unacceptable for you to identify performance issues, discuss them, and dismiss the employee back to their normal routine. To grow, you must develop the plan of action for them. You likely have the experience or resources to help each employee be successful. Garner input from the person having the issue and make sure there is a plan in place to rectify any problem presented before the end of the meeting.

By looking at these five tips before having a ‘tough talk’ with a member of your team, you can maximize your chances for success after the meeting. Remember, as a leader, you win with people. Please don’t allow them to fail and the organization will thrive.

Advocate for Others

An often overlooked tactic to build trust within a team is the art of advocacy. No, not advocating for a cause, instead advocating for people. Specifically, people who are not present when you are promoting for them.

We all know that humans are social creatures. As such, they tend to share various tidbits of information. As a leader, use this to your advantage. If you are trying to build a team, make it on the accomplishments and personalities of the team.

I can think back to when I took over a new facility. I knew that my employees would probably have some relationship with different work units outside of my scope of control. As such, I knew the quickest way for me to get buy-in with a new group of employees was to brag about them to other workgroups simply. I hedged a bet that if I continued to speak positively about the workgroup outside of their immediate social circle that eventually, they would hear of how their leader spoke about them in public.

I took advantage of learning specific positive traits of as many of my people as I could. Every chance I got, I brought them up to people. Completely unsolicited. Eventually, word got back to them that their leader believed in them. With the comfort of knowing they had the support of the formal leader, they became much more innovative and more committed to the work we were trying to accomplish.

As a leader, advocate for your people. Show others you value them. Believe in them so that they can believe in themselves.

Millennials Vs. Gen Z’ers

It’s the new generation that is challenging employers to find new ways to lead. These are not the millennials we have heard so much about. These are the next generation of employees. How you interact and guide them will undoubtedly have a profound impact on your organization.

In an open group, I sat down with members from Generation Z and picked their brains about what they see in the workplace. Admittedly, I found that some of my own tactics were missing the mark. I was treating them as if they were Millennials. Quickly, I realized they were something much more than that and I could not be more optimistic of the future.

One of the biggest takeaways from meeting with members of Generation Z was that I learned just how independent they are. They are almost polar opposites of the Millennials in this regard. Millennials were the generation that wanted to do only what was asked and nothing more. They wanted bean bag chairs and safe spaces to hang out. They wanted work to fill the void of the social connections they were missing as social media exploded around them.

Generation Z’ers on the other hand want to work independently and show the world what they are capable of. They want face to face contact and frequent feedback to ensure their decisions are being made satisfactorily. They prefer working on separate projects that fit into a bigger system. A collaborative effort of individuals.

One of the biggest gripes that Gen Z’ers had was how they were perceived by their employers. The group strongly felt that in communicating with their superiors via text/e-mail they were dismissed as being young or not having value. Part of the reason they stated that they valued the face to face contact of others was because they felt they offered more to the organization than they were being given credit for. An E-mail is easily deleted but a face to face conversation created a dialogue. It created the sharing of ideas and the Gen Z’ers are full of great ideas.

To put it in their words; “Millennials were too worried about which bathroom a person should use based upon their self-identified gender. Meanwhile, we were trying to figure out how to make the bathroom more sustainable for future generations by trying to develop water-conserving bathrooms.”

If we want our organizations to be successful, we must first learn the differences in the generations and lead them accordingly. The Gen Z’ers are full of incredible ideas and should be empowered to act. Meet frequently, keep it short. With an 8-second attention span the information needs to be to the point and genuine.

With acknowledgement of their value as a generation, we can be successful in leading, guiding, and inspiring the future leaders.

The Three Sentence Rule

It all started when I noticed that an employee was in her supervisors office for far too long. Like many things in leadership, questions must be asked.

Why was she in the office for two hours, discussing a seemingly minor performance issue? She had made a minor clerical error that had been committed by numerous employees over the years. A learning mistake, not a mistake of incompetence.

Her direct supervisor was taking a coaching/mentorship role while explaining the issue to her. His heart was in the right place by taking a good employee and trying to further her knowledge. Unfortunately, a good intention with a bad execution is still a negative outcome.

When she walked out of the office, she looked defeated. I could see it on her face, low morale at its finest. She had just endured a 2-hour lecture about a small clerical error that was unintentionally made. Sure, it needed to be addressed, but how?

I watched this same interaction with two other supervisors and their subordinates. I was witnessing an outdated model of addressing performance issues with employees.

Enter, the three sentence rule.

Generation Z has been well researched to show that they prefer face-to-face contact with their supervisors. The research further shows that the generation that grew up with twitter, likes to keep that interaction brief. In line with asking questions in reflective leadership, how many sentences does it take to address an issue?

  1. State what is wrong. 2. Explain how to fix it. 3. Ask if any clarification is needed.

This brief model of addressing problems may seem impersonal but if done correctly, directly speaks to what Generation Z values most; being genuine. Gone are the days of over-explaining things. The next generation is highly educated and has a strong capacity for being quick learners. Keep it brief, provide frequent feedback and above all else, be honest.

Owning Your Role

When we think of Leadership, we often think of the boss. The one in charge. We relate everything from the perspective of some person who has been instilled a formal role of authority. In a lot of cases, that is correct. What do we do then when that isn’t the case?

When things go wrong, who do we look toward? In most leadership classes I’ve been in, the finger points to the ultimate head of the workgroup. They are expected to take all of the responsibility. Conversely, when things go right, they are expected to take none of the credit. These are basic leadership lessons taught time and time again.

Pointing fingers up works in a top-down leadership environment (think military); the person in charge is supposed to know every little thing that goes on. Further, they are responsible for every thing that happens.

What if we changed that perspective? What if everyone was a leader? What would we do then?

When we think it is easy to pass the mistakes up the chain, it creates a culture of non-compliance. In order for the organization to succeed, each person must own their part of it. If everyone cared for the organization as if their own name were on the side of the building, how much better would your workgroup run?

Do you expect your employees to ‘own it’? At the heart of success is an idea of ownership. It is not enough to pass it on to the next person and simply say; “not my problem.”

As a leader, do you encourage people to own it? In order for people to feel that they have ownership in something, they must feel a sense of control and accomplishment for it.

Simple ways to encourage ownership are:

1 – Give choices instead of mandates.

2 – Ask for input in decision making.

3 – Share information as frequently as possible.

When we share information and include our teams in the decision making process, it not only empowers our people but also develops them. When we empower and develop them, we create a culture. The culture we create is one that is based upon everyone thinking at the next level up.

We create ownership. The process becomes more important than the product. Successful teams are able to gather ideas from each member, rather than have ideas dictated from one person down.