I had a very painful conversation with a member of my team today. There was an issue, requiring my intervention, that was obviously a miscommunication. I have dealt with hundreds of these over the last 25 years while leading team members across many of my businesses.
My approach is to address it as a miscommunication, where there is “fault” on both sides, so we can focus on solving the problem. Several things can get in the way when trying to solve these issues. I hope by outlining each, I can help you on how to best approach them.
Demand Personal Responsibility. People need to take responsibility for their actions. Oh people say they do but then blame everyone else and tell you why it wasn’t their fault. It was “the boss’s’ fault”, or “the system” or “what they heard” (my personal favorite). The conversation needs to start by you explaining that you don’t care who’s “fault” it was and that everyone needs to take responsibility for their own actions getting to this point, but particularly moving forward.
Eliminate Victim Language. Emotional intelligence is key. When people use phrases like “it doesn’t matter what I do, everyone just _____” that is not helpful. We don’t need victims, we need solutions. Always keep the conversation about solving the problem, not about how it made people feel. How people feel is irrelevant. I am not being harsh, I am being real.
How people feel about a problem and solving a problem have nothing to do with each other.
The Benevolent Dictatorship. The buck stops here. Your job is to solve the problem and create a better option. Getting bogged down in the problem or letting it be solution by committee does not work. At the end of the day, it is not a democracy where everyone gets a vote. It is a benevolent dictatorship where the person in charge listens carefully to every opinion but then makes the decision that he/she thinks is best for the organization.
Listen twice as much as you talk. However that does not mean getting dragged into the controversy. Keep people on task to solve the problem without taking sides.
Say What Needs To Be Said. That is the hardest thing you do as a leader. Be brutally honest and say what needs to be said. No problem gets solved until what needs to be said, gets said. People make lame excuses like “I don’t want to get anyone in trouble”, or “I’m not complaining, I’m just saying,” “ I heard that’s the way we were told to do it” or “I’m just trying to do my job.” These are all excuses for not facing the problem and coming up with solutions. You need to be willing to stop those sentences in their tracks and call them out for what they are.
Agitators And Solvers. There are two kinds of people when it comes to problem solving.
Solvers: They see a problem, analyze it quickly and come up with ideas to handle it.
Agitators: They see the same problem but instead of doing something, they bitch about it, gossip with others, write notes, but never come up with a solution or take any action.
Understand that your role is to either convert or fire the agitators and work with the solvers.
I was at a meeting one time when a Dentist said “I have a hard time having hard conversations with people. I just don’t like controversy.” The man leading the discussion looked at him and said;
“Then get a job. You cannot lead and not be willing to have the hard conversation. That is literally what you are being paid to do.”
Be a problem solver. Eat problems for breakfast. Be the go to guy or gal in your shop that everyone knows can solve the problem.
Keep Living Every Minute,