Don’t Cop Out on Good Leadership

The Easy Way vs. The Right Way

Leaders must be willing to have tough conversations. But the temptation to find a way to avoid those conversations is strong. If we’re committed, as we should be as leaders, to helping those we lead to succeed then we must be willing to do the hard thing. Here are a few of the common cop outs that we’re tempted to use instead of having a tough conversation:

Policy as a Cop Out

Let’s say you have twenty employees. Just one of those employees doesn’t dress as professionally as their job requires. What do you do: coach that person on why their attire is important, or publish a dress code policy for everyone?

The dress code policy might be a good idea, especially as your organization grows. But start with the one-on-one conversation to help that one person understand how it can help them to dress appropriately. The policy is a bad substitute for good coaching. Save the policy for later but introduce it with a good explanation of why it should matter to everyone.

“I’m not a micromanager” as a Cop Out

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone we hired was fully trained, not only in their field of expertise but also in our organization’s practices and culture? Good luck with that! As leaders, we need to recognize that every person will need some measure of guidance and training as they grow. To blame your followers for what they “should know” is a cop out. It’s your job to equip them for success. If they don’t live up to your expectations, start by blaming yourself for bad hiring and performance management skills.

Playing Blind as a Cop Out

Ignoring performance problems doesn’t make them go away. The longer you wait, the harder that necessary conversation will be. Call it out the first time and it can be a gentle correction. Wait until it’s deeply embedded and you can add to the conversation an explanation for why it’s not been a problem before. In the meantime, everyone else is observing the bad performance and wondering why their leader isn’t addressing it. One caveat: We need to deliver corrections in ways and at times when they will best receive it. So if there are multiple problems, you may have to prioritize them and use wisdom about which ones to address, when, and how.

Writing Someone Off as a Cop Out

If someone doesn’t do a task up to your standards, one alternative is to just never give them that task again without telling them why. That spares you a tough conversation, but it doesn’t lead them well. Maybe the task wasn’t a good fit for them and you should apologize for giving it to them. Maybe your instructions weren’t clear enough for a beginner. Or maybe they just need some training or experience to get it right. In any case, you owe them a conversation to help them grow.

Do It Right

Choosing to do the right thing – even if it is the hard thing – is foundational to good leadership. Learning to do the right thing in the right way requires you to choose to develop your own leadership skills.

  © 2023 enLumen Leadership Services

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