Leadership Quicksand

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This saying is so true! Nothing will sink a leader faster than making assumptions:

* about a colleague without knowing any facts…
* about an employee without listening, interacting, engaging…
* about a boss without asking for clarification…

In my experience, assumptions often lead to drama – and I hate drama. Someone assumes something (many times, we assume the worse), they share this assumption with someone else, and then the drama is off to the races. Assumptions lead to unhealthy/unprofessional conversations which lead to drama which leads to no productivity which leads to…

When assumptions lead to conversations with others who are not directly or indirectly involved with an issue, this become gossip. Far too often, leaders and coworkers begin to paint a picture of another employee that is not the truth. “Oh, that’s just how they are.” Have you heard that before? I have. Usually, it is said by a person who has spent little to no time with the subject, but they have it on “good authority” that…

Assumptions, gossip, back-biting – it’s all unprofessional, hurtful, and unfair. How can you combat it?

1. Chose not to assume. If someone approaches you and wants to “fill you in” on someone else and the conversation takes a harmful-not-helpful turn, you don’t have to stand there and listen. Politely excuse yourself. Or you can take a direct leadership position and say, “I’m not comfortable with this conversation. If you feel there is a real issue here, perhaps you should take it up directly with them.”

2. Refocus. If you are a manager and a team member of yours approaches you to talk negatively about another person on your team, nip this in the bud immediately. Here’s a tactic I learned years ago. Once the person is done speaking, simply look them in the eye and say, “You know, it’s my responsibility to address performance issues with each of you on my team. It’s not appropriate for me to talk with you about someone else’s performance. That’s not fair. If you would like to talk about performance, let’s talk about yours. But we can’t talk about that person’s performance. That’s my job, not yours. So if you would like to talk about how you can improve, I’m all ears.”

This works so well. Note: if this person brings a severe issue to mind (i.e. HR-related, harassment, etc.), you will need to take a different course than I just laid out. The refocusing plan above is for the petty things that folks may bring you.

3. Be known for encouragement. Do others see you as someone who builds up and encourages others? Are you known for quickly praising your team? If you’re a “negative Nelly”, then work to change. Your team will grow if you encourage them.

4. Keep short accounts. If you notice performance in a team member that is not meeting the standard, start coaching. Don’t assume they don’t care. Is something happening in their personal life that is affecting them? Sit down and talk with them. Hold them accountable. Listen. Coach. Counsel. They will get the message that you care, you are concerned, and that the standards for results are still there. If you ignore or avoid issues, those issues will only grow.

Your team is worth your best efforts in helping them succeed. Your leadership is marked by how well your team performs. High performance requires constant tuning, training, development, challenge, communication, and heart.

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