The primary role of the senior leader of any organization is to bring clarity and cohesion to his or her team. This communicates to executive leaders on his team what the expectations are for a successful result. Those of us who have been in leadership positions, particularly as the most senior leader, have experienced a team member who has made a large mistake. We then find ourselves in the unenviable position of having to bring further clarity and focus to the team member, only the reaction from the team member to this refocus can be as different as night is from day.
1. Walk through the specific challenge and solution that was implemented.
“Hold on” you may be thinking, “why should I take the time to walk back through what this team member faced that made his or her decision? Isn’t it prudent to let this team member know what the consequence of this situation has produced and then take action?” In many cases the factors that made the effort fail may be unknown to the senior leader because they live in a higher elevation and can easily miss local market dynamics. Walking through both the challenge and solution allows the team member to explain his logic and provide an admission of difficulty that was experienced. With this contextual knowledge a more informed judgement can be made about what went wrong and what to do about it.
2. Provide the leader with the assurance that they are a valued team member.
This may seem counter-intuitive given the negative reason the meeting is taking place, but trying to counsel someone who is filled with self-doubt rarely produces a positive communication. There are expectations that the senior leader expects for all of his team members, and if they are not followed then there is little room for a team member to excuse the situation. So, reassuring the team member that he’s still a part but needs to improve sets up a positive context for improvement without breaking the team member’s self-confidence more than it already is.
3. Refocus the team member on the next best steps.
When a team member fails, the easiest thing for the senior leader to do is remove him or her from their position and find someone else to take over. But this should only occur after all other options have been exhausted. Why? Because the team member has the experience to learn what not to do in the future and is a better leader for it. The organization is benefited by a more fully mature team member who will be more mindful of his or her decision-making in the future.
Chopping off a team member without an appropriate amount of time to improve doesn’t allow the full team to mature. The natural result is the organization finds itself in a perpetual state of rethinking and redeveloping. This is extremely tiring on both the team leader and members and can starve an organization’s health and growth.