Leaders Have the Difficult Conversations

A problem discussed is a problem half-solved

As leaders, we have an obligation to our people, our company, our clients, our owners and any other stakeholders to do all that we can to assure our company’s positive working environment. This means addressing problems on a timely basis – and that invariably means stepping up and having a conversation(s) with those who may be the root of the problem.

When we step up to the problem and the challenges it may involve, we are sending an important message to our people, that we care about them and our organizational culture.

To address a problem or a badly-behaved team member, it may mean we will have a conversation(s) that could be considered difficult. It means discussing the problem and how it affects others. It can mean correcting someone, offering constructive feedback, entering a situation where there is obvious conflict to help achieve resolution, or other corrective conversations.

We must understand that anxiety, angst, and stress do not come from a problem, they come from not addressing the problem – and the problem will surely grow worse.

We would be well-advised to think of the conversation as helpful rather than difficult.

In facilitating 360 leadership assessments for senior executives and organizational culture assessments for their teams and companies, I speak with hundreds of people in business every year. Too often, a recurring theme is that their manager tends to ignore a problem, incivility, and a difficult team member who is bad for team morale and teamwork. This is frustrating for those who are dedicated and want to do great work, individually and as a team. It could well lead to undue stress, which is becoming an epidemic.

Not addressing a problem is letting our people down. It decreases productivity, creativity and morale. It is shirking our responsibility as a leader.

To illustrate this, a friend of mine held the number three position in a huge organization, one that we all know. She called me, asking if we could get together. The next day, over coffee, she said she had resigned. The two top executives continued to ignore problems, sweeping them under the carpet, hoping they would go away, despite raised concerns.

Even though she held a high position, my friend resigned as she could not work in an environment of resistance to responsibilities. Our companies can only be as healthy as the top people.

As leaders, we must have courage to come out from behind ourselves. We cannot ignore a problem by our seeing reality as we would like it to be. No, we must accept the true reality and do our best to resolve a problem. This is our responsibility.

There is an art to having the difficult conversations, and if we are going to be an effective leader, we must develop these skills.

There are helpful books, numerous articles, TED talks and YouTube videos which will help prepare us to address rather than avoid conflict. I particularly value Susan Scott’s book, Fierce Conversations. It is a gem!

Let’s commit to addressing problems promptly. This is our responsibility as a leader.

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