You Can’t Outsource Leadership

I recently had an occurrence where a client asked me to come and start coaching one of their staff members.  As I do with many organisations, I assist the CEO by coaching some his team to be better leaders, giving them parallel coaching guidance, tools and techniques to help develop their leadership skills.

However on this occasion in the initial scoping conversation with a Team Leader and the HR Manager, it transpired that this was a staff member in the wider organisation, the person wasn’t a leader in the business, and as it turned out was having some ongoing performance issues and had been transferred from one team to the next.  They wanted me to basically coach the person to do their job better.

I quickly turned the conversation and said, “Hold on, this is a performance issue not a leadership development issue. This is a performance management issue that the Team Leader needs to deal with as their leader.  You can’t outsource leadership.  You need to have the hard conversation with this person and start the performance management process.  Stop beating around the bush and deal with the issue and start performance managing this person.”

“We thought you would say that”,

“Then I am pleased I didn’t disappoint.”

Courageous conversations are those conversations the leaders need to have.  HR Managers or external advisors can provide the process or the tools, but you as the leader must be the one to have the hard conversations and manage the performance of your team.

Interestingly, research by Zenger and Folkman shows employees are 11 times more likely to prefer corrective feedback over positive feedback, and yet over half of us shy away from having these hard conversations.  Only 12% of employees reported being surprised when given corrective feedback, which means 88% of employees are not surprised when given corrective feedback.

So it is about having the courage to name the issues, particularly around behaviour, and then managing the process through to either create lasting change and improvement or ensuring there are consequences.  And occasionally you will need to shoot a hostage so they know you are serious.

It is easy to lead in good times when the going is good, but true leaders come to the fore to deal with and resolve the issues.  This takes moral courage to do what you know is right.  You can outsource many things in business but you can’t outsource leadership!

Greg is a Strategic Adviser at Advisory.Works

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