The Tough Stuff of Leading ... Difficult Team members must join or be removed.
Leaders generally experience a rhythm to their roles, learning of challenges, developing teams and solutions, resolving issues and celebrating the results. This tends to be the day-to-day experience of most leaders. Yet there are times when we are either put into a broken team or a team member is given to us and we need to take hard, drastic steps to manage them, or we, and those we lead, will be ineffective. While every team member deserves the opportunity to shine and be successful, some simply cannot produce what is needed for the project or team to be successful. There are two ends of the spectrum: those who cannot and those who will not.
Recalcitrant. Those who will not.
In our leadership roles, we sometimes encounter individuals who simply will not follow direction. There are many reasons for this: sometimes people believe they should have your role, and in their bitterness, they rebel against your leadership. Sometimes people have an allegiance to a former manager whom they believe was a better boss than you are. Sometimes people don’t like the work that is involved in the direction you set. Ultimately, these people need to be on your side or off the team: there is no in between.
Don’t get me wrong, detractors and naysayers are part of the game in management. We don’t expect everyone to agree with everything we say … and sometimes our style as managers makes people resistant (something we need to think about. Are WE responsible for employee backlash?)
In the end, it is far easier to deal with the recalcitrant, than it is to deal with the incompetent. For the recalcitrant, the choice is clear: get on board or get off the ship. I had that conversation with several people in my 40 year career. It went like this: “I am aware that you do not like the approach I’m taking as a leader. I respect that, but I must add that we have work and responsibilities to do. So, you don’t have to agree with me to stay on the team, but you need to understand I’m taking a direction and we can’t go two ways to get the job done. If you’re willing to work with me, I’ll be glad to use your talents; if not, you need to find another job.”
In one instance, I was taking the person’s job and he reported to me. That one was the toughest of the tough. He felt he was being disrespected in the highest possible way, and he knew it. But he was not effective in the role, so they hired me. I wanted to ensure he felt respected by me, BUT I had the role and I was responsible for the output of the team.
The conversation was done one-on-one in a private area where no one else could interrupt. It was done quickly without allowing the person a lot of time for preparation. By grabbing a moment to do so, you prevent anxiety on his part and on your part. This conversation needs to be done and over with. I needed to be direct, to the point and brief … and most of all, very, very clear. I brought several very specific instances of borderline insubordination to the person’s attention. Then I said “No one will know of this conversation except you and me. I will not contact HR or my leadership. But today is a day of choice for you. We have a lot of work to do, and no time to waste on which direction we’re going to head. If you support me, we will never speak of this conversation again.”
Both instances turned out well for me. The former recalcitrant individual became an ardent helper and the incompetent individual moved on. These elements of leadership are very difficult, but if we are to be effective as leaders, they must be done.