Communicate Leader

You Lead People, Stop Trying to Be Comfortable


As leaders we need to be aware of what our intentions are for those who are following our lead. Oftentimes our unconscious goal is to put the people around us at ease, to keep them happy, and to prove we are worthy of their hard work and loyalty.

While we certainly want to be worthy of their hard work and loyalty these intentions may yield different outcomes. The reason being, people don’t always give their best work when they are at ease and happy. And loyalty is not given to the leader who shies away from conflict.

While I’m not advocating for a disruptive environment I am encouraging you to shake things up when there is a need.

What constitutes a need? One word: complacency. Is your team satisfied with “good enough”? Meaning, goals are not getting met and that’s disappointing, but no urgency to change the situation. Is there a desire to stay in a comfort zone? Do we not want changes because “that’s the way we’ve always done it”?

Complacency makes us dull, causes us to take things for granted, and will have us sell out on ourselves and our clients and customers. If your product or services makes people safer, happier, or more productive, why would you not do everything in your power to bring people to it, sell it, and deliver it?

Were your greatest victories ever achieved while you were feeling cozy? No! To reach our current optimal we need to be in a range of uncomfortable. To lead others to their optimal we need to make them uncomfortable.

Mean Boss

I’m not suggesting you turn into Ebenezer Scrooge, “You’ll want the whole day off tomorrow, I suppose.” Allowing people to experience discomfort does not mean you have to turn cold or catty. More often than not it will look like experiencing your own discomfort and stopping yourself from watering down the message to put the other person at ease.

What I’m suggesting is to recognize your team’s full potential and expect it from them. Convey what you see as their full potential, your trust that they can fulfill it, and hold them accountable to it.

Here are four simple steps you can take the next time you need to confront complacency:

1.  Take a factual accounting of the behavior that you see.

Keep emotion out of it at this point. Is this person coming in late/leaving early? Are high priority tasks left to the last minute? Are goals consistently unmet? Do they complain without suggesting a solution or offering to find one? Does this individual suggest improvements but fail to take action?

Document what you have witnessed and keep and objective point of view. If their hours are 9-5 and that is the agreement, it is unfair to say they “come in right at 9 and leave right at 5.”

This could be a sign of complacency but it may be they have commitments outside of work that you are unaware of. To bring up an agreed upon behavior as a sign of complacency will discredit your position right from the start. Your goal is to have an empowering conversation that leaves everyone feeling motivated.

2.  Have a private conversation that gets right to the point.

This may be difficult for you and for them so pull the band aid off and get the heart of the issue. Start by stating your commitment (the overall goal you have), give 2 or 3 of the examples you documented in step 1, state your concern and then stop talking.

For example, “Sally, my goal is to have a everyone on our team give it all they’ve got so we can clear out our backlog and go into the holidays without having to do overtime. I noticed you were away from desk on Thursday afternoon for a half an hour and your productivity numbers for the past several weeks have been under expectations. You are a strong member of our team so I’m not sure what’s going on.”

You’ve said what you needed to say and now Sally has a chance to respond. Your job is to stay quiet, even if it takes her some time to gather her thoughts.

Don’t give any more than 3 examples. This is not a trial; it’s a conversation for this person’s greatness. The tone and attitude of this conversation is, “I know you are great so I’m confused by what I am seeing.”

3.  Convey your continued commitment and come to an agreement for future behavior.

By this point Sally will have acknowledged the facts that you presented and either taken responsibility, given a valid reason for the behavior (and you can address the lack of communication that had occurred up until this point), or she might have placed blame elsewhere.

Conversations are a dance and rarely go exactly as expected. If Sally acknowledged the facts and took full responsibility it is important to be open, non-judgmental, and in tune with your commitment to yourself, your team and this individual, to change the behaviors.

Ultimately you want to come to an agreement of what the expected behavior will be in the future. If there was a valid reason, like a seriously ill parent or child, the two of you agree that this will be communicated immediately and time off will be taken, if that is what is needed.

If blame was the name of the game you will come to an agreement that they are 100% responsible for their performance and any issues, like a system crash, need to be reported immediately. Don’t relate to people as the excuses they provide. If you buy into people’s excuses you devalue who they are and what they are capable of.  Instead, coach them to identify what was in their power in that situation and how they could have responded differently.

4.  Hold them accountable to the agreement made and acknowledge improvements

This is probably the most important step. If you want to be taken seriously your actions have to match your words. If you call someone on a lack of performance but ignore future slip-ups there is the risk of a backward slide.

On the other hand acknowledging improvements reinforces how important your commitment was to you. It also lets you team know you’re not just watching for mistakes, you’re celebrating small wins as well. It’s an opportunity to appreciate them for their effort and appreciation is one of the most powerful human motivators.

To lead your team to big wins you need to:

  • Have a clear vision of what that future looks like.
  • Be able to convey a clear image of that future to your team.
  • Commit to small acts of courage every day to see you there.

What would be a small act of courage look like for you? Comment below and let’s support each other!