You know that feeling when you know something needs to change, and yet you don't really want to have the conversation required to change it?
You have valid reasons. Maybe it hasn't gone well in the past, maybe your schedule is slammed, or maybe you want this person to like you and fear they won't after the conversation. These are all real-life scenarios. The problem is that not addressing the issue makes it worse over time…whether you're aware of it or not.
I was working with a leader recently whose team member has not been delivering what he said he would. There were demanding responsibilities, and the leader justified taking on the work himself rather than truly addressing the underlying issue with his team member. This resulted in the leader becoming burned out and not able to deliver on core responsibilities. This stunted his growth, potential, and ultimately, stunted the growth of the business unit.
Does this situation sound familiar? I'm sure it does.
Based on my personal experience and the knowledge Fierce has acquired over the last 15 years with clients across the globe, we've learned that the most successful leaders have one thing in common: the ability to confront issues effectively.
Many of us are not born natural "confronters." It takes practice. Eight years ago when I started at Fierce, I used to not confront issues head on. I blame it on my "Midwest nice" family roots where phrases like if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all are shared like candy. My behavior changed after I went through Fierce training, and over and over again I experienced the success that resulted from having these conversations. I have witnessed firsthand how confronting issues (not people) builds relationships and companies. It is a powerful tool, and if you are not utilizing it, your leadership game is not where it could be.
Let's take a look at why we don't confront.
Imagine you have a backpack full of rocks. The rocks represent all of the unresolved issues that exist in your organization. Some issues are small like pebbles, while others are the size of boulders (it's a really big backpack). You carry a heavy load when you do not address the issues. However, we often just pretend they are not there, and over time, we get used to the weight we carry despite how uncomfortable it is.
When I've witnessed leaders who do not confront well, they typically fall into one of these three categories.
1.The "Too Nice" Leader There's nothing wrong with being nice. The problem arises when a leader avoids issues in fear that they'll offend or upset someone. This is when nice goes too far. People are walking on eggshells and little gets accomplished in this kind of environment. Mokitas are not being addressed, so issues persist. You can dive into this more in our webinar here on the "culture of nice."
2.The Passive-Aggressive Leader. When a leader is passive aggressive, issues are being avoided and not being discussed openly, yet the accompanying emotions around the issue can still be felt. In cultures with passive-aggressive leaders, people are likely frustrated and leaving behind a negative emotional wake, gossip is common, and absences may be higher than usual. Meanwhile, no one is proactively working to solve the issue. As you can imagine, this creates a culture where authentic conversations are not commonplace, and progress is stalled in the areas where problems have yet to be resolved.
3.The Aggressive Leader. With an aggressive leader, confrontation is happening, but it's not happening skillfully. This communication approach is the opposite of walking on eggshells or beating around the bush. Instead, it's combative and abrasive. The problem with this approach is that it harms rather than strengthens relationships. It often shows up as a me-against-you way of operating, which creates an unhealthy environment and contributes to a fear-based culture.
Do any of these leaders describe your own style when it comes to confrontation?
The Implications for You and Your Organization
This matters. There are implications when leaders are not (or don't know how to) confront issues.
The costs vary from individual to company. My main question for you is: What's at stake? Consider the cost of these missing conversations. What do you stand to lose?
What isn't working now will not suddenly resolve on its own. As a leader, there is one absolute truth: you are accountable for the change.
By not having these confrontation conversations, you and everyone in your organization is paying a price. You're stuck and won't move as fast as you could. Growth is stalled, even if it seems on the surface like things are moving.
With the right skills, leaders can directly confront and resolve issues, leading to stronger relationships and more business growth.
What to Do Immediately
I won't leave you hanging. My wish for you is that this week you take some immediate steps to remove some of these boulders from your backpack.
1. Properly identify the issue.
I have had so many scenarios in my leadership journey where I thought I knew what the issue was, and then once I started digging deeper, realized that it was an entirely different issue than I first thought. I'm sure that has happened to you before.
As a leader, you need to see past the symptoms of a problem and properly identify the issue in order to resolve it. Confrontation usually begins when a surface issue arises. For example, let's say a team project is overdue. You may be experiencing frustration, confusion, or even disappointment about this reality, wondering where your team went wrong. But as you explore further, you may discover there was an issue with, for example, unresponsiveness from an external vendor who was needed to complete the project. While an overdue project is certainly an issue, taking the time to have the conversation and properly identify the root cause can reveal an entirely different set of solutions to prevent the same problem from happening again.
Properly identifying an issue requires asking everyone involved probing and clarifying questions.
How did things unfold from your perspective?
So if I'm understanding you correctly, you're saying...
Can you tell me more about that?
These kinds of questions reduce miscommunication, eliminate assumptions, reveal positive intentions, and ultimately help pinpoint what the actual issue is. If you approach the conversation with curiosity, you'll walk away knowing far more about the situation than you did when you entered the conversation.
2. Coach to dive deeper.
When it comes to scaling and growth, you need to coach people to understand the implications if something doesn't get resolved quickly. Likewise, leaders need to be having these coaching conversations with their direct reports in order to achieve step number one and properly identify issues.
You may go into the conversation thinking you know what the problem is and discover that you really had no idea, or you may learn about something that's been happening either with the employee or among the team that you didn't know anything about. These coaching conversations can unearth some incredibly valuable information by creating more awareness, potentially influencing important decisions that will impact the growth of the business.
3. Get training when you don't have the skill.
As a leader, you're a model for how your organization operates. This means you're accountable for leading how communication is approached in your organization. When it comes to training, this is where many organizations miss the mark. They may spend a significant portion of their training budget on developing subject matter or task-related skills, yet their leaders are still at a loss for how to communicate effectively with their teams and have the conversations required to achieve results.
If your organization is focused on scaling and growth, you must confront issues in a way that not only resolves problems but also strengthens relationships. Leaders around the world are recognizing this need, and it is creating a competitive edge. This is why leadership training is critical for organizations focused on growth, and not just any training will do. Training needs to develop skills to resolve problems, including how to confront.
I love bragging about our clients and would love for you to learn more about how CHRISTUS Health overcame their own "culture of nice." Leaders recognized that if employees were able to describe reality without laying blame, and address what needs to be addressed, many business problems could be resolved. You can find out more here.
Take a moment to consider how much you are avoiding confrontation or not developing the skills required to confront. Is something happening with your team or in your organization that needs to shift? Perhaps a person's behavior or attitude? The next step is yours. This week is the time to step into the conversation. Let me know how it goes, and feel free to reach out to me directly if you want more pointers!