An Actionable Approach to Tough Issues Even Timid Leaders can Employ
The worst agonies of leadership are self-inflicted.
Poor results and toxic environments are often the result of misplaced tolerance.
What happens when you avoid tough issues:
#1. Unintentional affirmation of negative behaviors.
Silent tolerance is unspoken approval.
Teams embrace negative behaviors that leaders tolerate.
Tolerance is endorsement. Endorsement becomes encouragement. Negative behaviors allowed in moderation eventually become harmful patterns and destructive habits.
#2. Temporary comfort from false compassion.
Tolerance of negative behaviors isn’t compassion.
Real compassion confronts. False compassion avoids. Kim Scott calls false compassion ‘ruinous empathy’ in her book, Radical Candor.
It’s cowardice, not compassion, to silently permit self-inflicted injury.
#3. Nagging frustration and escalating stress.
Everyone who avoids tough issues experiences nagging frustration.
- What’s frustrating about this? Listen and affirm. Don’t solve.
- How have you tried to resolve this frustration? If the answer is nothing, go to #3. If they’ve tried and failed, go to #4.
- What have you tried to resolve this issue?
- What else might you try?
- How can I help? Only ask this question if you’re prepared to help someone address their tough issue.
Tip: Use the above questions to reflect on your own nagging frustrations.
Stay open to the idea that you contribute to the nagging frustration of others.
#4. Squandered potential and misspent resources.
Unaddressed issues distract from peak performance.
You’re never at your best when you avoid tough issues.
An actionable approach to tough issues:
- Ask questions before casting blame or offering solutions. Forward-facing curiosity is freedom to bring up tough issues.
- Always seek to advantage others and your organization. Causing harm is never an option.
- Define positive outcomes before developing solutions. What do you want?
- Generate multiple solutions before choosing a simple path forward.
The negative issue you ignore control you.
Tolerating tough issues becomes learned helplessness.
Managing in the Gray (Book)
5 Steps to Tackling Difficult Conversations (CCL)
Resolve Your Toughest Work Problems with 5 Questions (HBSWK)
Very timely topic. I can think of personal and political issues that I can apply this to as well. Thanks!
Thanks Colleen. Best wishes.
“Ruinous Empathy” – I like it.
Tolerance of passive-aggressive behaviour and mentality is indeed ruinace. The fact that p-a is now culturally acceptable may well be ruinous long-term. Emotional tantrums need to be arrested and dealt with in the moment and on the spot.
“It’s craven to permit injury,” may be your quote of the year, Dan.
You can read this from the perspective of how it affects a person in a leadership position, and what their tolerance will produce, but it can also be read as a roadmap by leaders to recognize why employees may react to things in a specific manner.
A leader might have compassion for a person, but an employee might see that compassion as tolerance for poor excuses. Tolerance of those continuing excuses will lead to frustration and stress in those who have to also tolerate the excuses because the boss tolerates them.
I have an underperforming Manager on my team. The most challenging part of managing and driving accountability with the individual is their connection and leadership amongst their team; it’s fantastic. That said, what I realized by allowing subpar performance and lack of timeliness/quality of work was that I lowered the bar. I allowed underperformance by avoiding it being addressed quickly. The also unintended consequence was that the rest of my team clearly recognized a different level of acceptance vs. the high bar I held my other Managers to. This was a learning for me.