Difficult Conversations: Developing Your Team to Grow Your Business

4 Apr 2013 – Jim Schroeder –

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Not long after entering management in the industry for which you have trained, you realize one skill you did not acquire in your education is the ability to have difficult conversations, or what I sometimes call courageous conversations.

For the scope of this article I am referring to the leadership that you wear or leave in the closet in your day-to-day functioning. These conversations often involve issues or behaviors related to staff, clients, associates, or partners. I find that the majority of managers avoid these difficult moments by focusing on what they were trained for and enjoy. We wishfully hope, “perhaps they will go away if I ignore it long enough.” Unfortunately, left unaddressed, they often only get worse and impact both the morale and performance of the company. Rather than leaving the office with a sense of satisfaction each night, you go home ruminating and often grinding your teeth over an unaddressed issue. At this point, if you can not relate to what I am writing, consider yourself fortunate, and you can put this article in recycling. For those of you that exclaim, “That’s me!” read on.

Following are some tips for getting unstuck and avoiding the serious consequences of avoiding the difficult conversation. First of all, can you identify the issue and person or persons that are involved, or have you avoided it so long you now call it normal?

I will list a few examples that I have encountered both in my own career and now as a consultant/coach in offices and corporations.

1. The employee or office manager that uses intimidation or bullying their co-workers to gain the desired outcome.

2. The low performing employee that is ignored and brings the performance standards to a level that makes co-workers or yourself want to scream!

3. The associate whose relationship skills are demeaning to staff or driving patients out the back door.

4. The client that has started out with the business but has now developed demanding or abusive expectations, and everyone dreads the moment he or she enters the door. Equally frustrating is the employee who develops similar expectations of his or her co-workers.

5. The new employee who is never accepted or allowed to develop and become part of the team, also known as the “clique syndrome.”

6. The executive whose tool box for coping is anger, frustration, manipulation, or better yet, passing it on to the office manager and other employees.

As leaders of the business, a different skill set is required to address the issues above. We are accustomed to completing skilled procedures and functions, being experts in our fields. With leadership and the development of people it’s an ongoing process that requires our continuing influence. We all recognize clients and they return to our company not only because of our great margins and great job done, but also because of the experience they encounter with our team. Following are the steps to short-circuit the toxic situation.

1. Man up! Acknowledge and commit to addressing the issue. Have a conversation with a trusted colleague or your spouse. Hopefully if you have raised this issue 10 or 15 times, they will ask, “When are you going to take action?”

2. In a calm, reflective moment, write out the specific issue, how long it has persisted, the consequences of this performance or behavior, and the people involved.

3. List the different choices you have and the anticipated consequences of each choice: dismissal; train and develop; coach; perhaps you need legal advice or coaching before beginning the process.

4. Commit to a date on which you will address the issue, and do not let yourself rationalize to do it later.

5. Identify what will look different in the employee behavior or performance to demonstrate that they have clarity and understanding of your expectations. Be specific and try to eliminate ambiguity.

6. Offer coaching, counseling, or skill training depending on the situation. Sometimes the person may need development, and your investment in them will turn them around into an outstanding employee. We are all a work in progress!

Take the time to develop a process that brings you to a place that puts light on the situation in an objective manner. Practice and refine a process that brings about action and results in growth. Recognize your own strengths and weaknesses in your leadership style. Commit to growth in this area, not unlike a continuing education course in your specializing field. Allow your brain to think objectively, and analyze the various components, much like we approach a complex project or contract. View moving forward and look at your steps as win-win. We are not doing anyone any favors by ignoring these issues… everyone suffers. Understanding and developing our leadership skills is one of the most underdeveloped skills in our tool box. It impacts every facet of our office from profitability to the enjoyment of our profession.

I am including a reading list to enhance your lifelong learning. Please feel free to contact me with questions or comments.

– The Truth About Leadership, By James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner

– Developing the Leader Within You, By John C. Maxwell

– Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, By Jim Collins

– Lead Change, By John P. Kotter

– The Motivating Team Leader, By Lewis E. Losoncy

– Jack: Strait from the Gut, By Jack Welch and John A. Byrne

– On Becoming a Leader, By Warren G. Bennis

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