Getting Comfortable with The UncomfortableMay 17, 2023
Recognize this pattern?
A team member does something that frustrates you. There's a lot going on that day, so you don't say anything. You just let it ride. Then it happens again. Your frustration increases, so this time you "fix it"—you do it for the other person. Then the issue occurs again. Your frustration level increases even more, so this time you "tell them that they need to change and what they need to change." They listen and nod their head, saying they will do better or maybe give an excuse, and that's it. You leave thinking that they now understand and are committed to change. They leave worried, thinking they have failed or upset the boss—or worse, they leave thinking you are incompetent.
Notice a pattern? So far, you've observed and let it pass, observed and fixed it yourself, and observed and "told them what they needed to change." Not once did you ask and explore deeper to understand why they were doing it. Not once did you ask questions to help them understand how their actions impact others.
Maybe this pattern is not about you, but I bet you've observed it in other leaders. Why do we do this? I would love to hear your thoughts on why we do this—what is at the core of the "do nothing, fix it for them, and then tell them they need to change" sequence? Here are my thoughts.
One reason is that we think our job is to fix things. We rose through the ranks because of our ability to fix things—to get stuff done. We assume that this same trait works with people, except we're fixing people, not stuff. Another reason may be a lack of training. You only have one tool—fix things. If you only have one tool, every problem has a "fix it for them" solution.
The bigger reason, I suspect, is our discomfort as leaders with "uncomfortable conversations."
Many leaders are uncomfortable saying, "Your success is important to us, and there's an issue that is impacting your performance. And we need to talk about it." The real issue is not what the team member is doing. The real issue is how we, as leaders, frame up the situation in our minds before we ever act.
Here's a thought about how to reframe the conversation and make it more productive.
Do you care about the person? Let's assume that you do. (If you don't, you may need to rethink leadership.) Do you care about their success? Let's assume you do. If you answered yes to both of these, then there is only one logical conversation—explore the issue using The Ultimate Communication Multi-Tool that I introduced in a previous post—Identify & Ask, Mirror, Explore, Refocus.
Identify the issue and then explore why it is happening. Something may be happening that you are not aware of. The person may need skill development. Whatever is causing the problem, addressing it in a constructive way does three important things.
First, it communicates that you care. Second, it communicates that you want them to be successful. Finally, it communicates that you want to help them, but changing the behavior is their responsibility, not yours. Spending time fixing things that others should be fixing is a poor use of your time as a leader.
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