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To err is human; to forgive divine

Leaders of character: Give people a second chance if they have done something wrong.

Have you ever been really disappointed in someone that you lead because they screwed up? You put your trust in them and they let you down. You had provided clear guidelines (so you thought) and yet they still managed to miss the deadline/produce something that looks nothing like what you wanted. Pah! 

Reactions - Yours

If someone in your team really has performed very badly, there are two ways that you as a leader can react that will be guaranteed to make things much worse:

1.  If you fail to be explicit about what was wrong and you don’t provide the support - either a direction or some coaching - to help the person improve, then you can be fairly certain that similar problems will continue to occur. Don’t just cut an under-performer adrift. That may work for some people who have high drive and who hold certain clear values and beliefs around their performance at work. For the remaining 87% of the workforce (according to Gallup), they’ll need more overt help in getting better. 

2. If you as leader, never allow your team member to earn your trust or your respect back again. I know that it sounds Medieval doesn’t it … but I’ve worked with a good number of leaders who have told me early in our work together (much less so later on!) that once someone lets them down, that person is never able to earn their way back into the leader’s ‘good books’ to the same degree again. Ever. 

Woah! 

Reactions - Theirs

Do you have any idea what the results such an approach from you might produce? I’m thinking if this is your approach as a leader you’re going to find: 

a) People stop taking risks, trying new things and being creative
b) The team stop telling you when they’ve messed up 
c) Members of the team stop respecting you because respect is mutually earned. 

Forgiveness isn’t a soft and fluffy approach to leadership. Quite the opposite. It is much harder to get over your disappointment (which you are at liberty to communicate, by the way) and then help the individual get better. They will know they messed up, so help them improve. No-one comes into work every day with the express purpose of failing. 

Do now:

1. Be explicit with your team (and yourself) about your approach to people not performing well. Ensure it includes timely, clear and specific feedback and also support. Be clear about when ‘enough is enough’ too.

2. Ensure that you create an environment where people feel safe to come and tell you when they have failed to perform appropriately. Give people reassurance about how the team should communicate, including that there should be solutions or recovery plans presented too.

3. Check yourself: are you demonstrating integrity in your approach when you mess up. Are you easier on yourself than those that you lead when they err? 

Performance Edge Partners are dedicated to adding value to organisations through developing great leaders of character. We can forgive you for not contacting us so far but now ... ? Come on, contact us here so we can get started helping your organisation succeed. 


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