Dear Dan: Am I Helping or Hindering

Dear Dan,

I am new to a leadership role. I am always trying to determine if I am really helping or hindering my direct reports.

I want to be a successful leader and help people grow, but if they don’t, how do I determine if it is because I am failing as a leader or they are not interested in growing?

How do you fire people without it reflecting on your leadership skills? As in, I couldn’t lead them to success?



Leadership quote: Am I helping or hindering? Image of a concerned dachshund.

Dear SB,

Great questions. Hiring is one of the most challenging things leaders do. I also respect your concern about the negative perception of terminating an employee you hired.

Helping or hindering:

“How can you tell if someone is failing because you failed, or they don’t have interest in growing?”

#1. Notice patterns.

Do you consistently fail when you help people grow? If you do, then you are the issue. A pattern of success is encouraging. When failure is an exception, you may need to learn how to deal with different kinds of people.

#2. Seek feedback.

When growth seems slow, seek feedback from the person you’re working with. Say, “If you don’t mind, I have some questions about our approach to your development.”

  1. What am I doing that seems to help you grow?
  2. What could I do to accelerate your growth?
  3. What am I doing that seems to hinder your growth?
  4. What can you do to accelerate your own growth?

Remember their growth is their responsibility, not yours. You can’t grow for someone.

Seek feedback from people you have helped grow. You could use the above questions in the past tense. “What did I do that helped you grow? What did I do that hindered your growth?” You might phrase the developmental question, “What could I have done differently to help you grow?”

Keep your boss informed. Explain your plans. Seek advice.

Growth begins when you release the illusion of effortless development. Image of a plant growing out of sand.

#3. Avoid distraction.

Sometimes, sincere, caring leaders spend too much time on poor performers. Keep your eye on people who are thriving. Encourage and support them. Things don’t always work as we hope.

Note: When, after reflection, failure to help people grow is a pattern, go back to the drawing board.

Terminating someone without hurting your reputation:

Regarding your reputation as a leader. A track record of success is built over time, don’t worry about an isolated event. If someone brings it up, listen to their concerns. Ask for suggestions. Don’t be defensive. Learn and improve.

Reputation building:

One of the best things you do for your leadership reputation is handle failure skillfully. Overreacting reflects insecurity. Underreacting reflects arrogance. Stay curious and open. Move forward with confidence.

You have my best,


How can leaders determine if they are helping or hindering?

Still curious:

Solution Saturday: Hired to Get Them In Shape

When Development Works and When to Let them Go

5 Answers for Resistance to Development

How To Terminate an Employee (And What Not To Do)

Author’s note: I suspend my 300 word limit on “Dear Dan” posts.