The regular football season recently ended and we, once again, witnessed the annual parade of head coach beheadings. Whether or not you participate in the debates surrounding these firings, it’s hard not to be fascinated by the high profile nature of these events.
However, away from the spotlight similar unceremonious leadership changes are common. A company’s stock falls and the CEO is ousted, a television station’s news ratings declines and the News Director is let go or in-store sales are flat for a national retail chain and the CMO is released.
So what’s the problem? Shouldn’t poor performers be shown the door?
In many cases I’m sure the changes are justified but each time I hear of someone losing a job the words of a wise and dear friend creep into my head. Many years ago I quietly complained to that trusted confidant about the poor performance of one of my employees. Expecting empathy or a firm sounding board, I was shocked when he said, “If your employee is failing, it’s because you are failing her!”
I bristled at the comment and then I thought, “How could I be responsible for someone else’s shortcomings?” But then his comment resonated in a way that I rarely feel.
My initial rationale was that we sometimes make a bad hire and have to make a change. That is true. But then I thought about the bright-eyed, enthusiastic employee who was either a star or had star potential and then watched their performance decline. What happened? Did their light just fade away for no reason?
I then started watching my co-workers more closely. I became more aware of the rhythms in their performance. I noticed direct linkages between their performance and a multitude of internal and external factors. I saw that my ability to recognize and help them manage key personal issues (such as helping an employee get a key medical procedure that was previously denied by the insurance company or arranging a salary advance for an employee to cure an unexpected financial crisis) was as important as creating a work environment that supported and developed their skills (such as providing leadership training for promising employees or appointing an employee to head up an important company initiative).
I also realized that my attitude and comportment as a leader had a major impact on the dynamics and energy of the culture. If the staff sensed tension in me they became unsettled; if I were upbeat and confident they were calmed. Indeed many of the factors that influenced behavior and productivity were well within my control. I finally began to understand what my friend was saying.
So why did the light within your star employee fade?
I suggest the only way to answer that is to look within yourself and answer courageously. We have all failed a promising employee at some point. But let’s not dwell on the negative instead let’s focus on self-forgiveness and self-learning as two of the most powerful forces in leadership. Why not commit to taking more responsibility for your team’s performance? As an Executive or an Interim Executive consider this:
If you are truly convinced you hired the wrong person – make a change quickly. Whether things have gone south or times are good keeping them is neither fair to them nor anyone else in the organization.
If you’re convinced you hired a star – support and nurture their talent regardless of stock price movements, ratings changes or in-store sales. In time your company will be rewarded with peak performance and loyalty. What more could a leader want?