The number one issue I have seen among leaders and the issue that carries the greatest emotional weight that often clouds objectivity is letting go of a key leader on your team. As an executive coach, I’ve had a front row seat to seeing the most brilliant strategists and effective leaders who have lost themselves under the emotional weight of losing someone who is critical to their team, or at least their role is critical to the team and the organization's success.
Most leaders know the enormous weight of the responsibility and need for patience when allowing a key leader to settle into their role. Yet, after an undefined appropriate amount of time, the key indicators are not trending positive, or projects are under performing, it becomes evident this is the wrong person for the position. Most often we hire somebody who performed with excellence and delivered exceptional results in their discipline in one or more organizational settings. For a variety of reasons they have failed to gain traction in our environment.
The weight of this issue for most leaders, more often than not, comes from the loss of confidence in the individual in whom they had personally placed so much trust and hope. Leaders hire people in the confidence that they have all that is needed to be successful in the position. Having been so persuaded, we adopt them into our corporate family, nurture them into the culture, and give them the tools and resources needed for success. We have personally sponsored the new hire into the organization. The idea of cutting ties with a member of your team brings a sense of personal loss. Facing the daunting task of replacing any high profile leader carries with it a heightened sensitivity to utilize an improved vetting and decision making process. The thought of having to find the replacement and start the process all over again with the prospect that the next person hired may not work out can be overwhelming.
I have found, in hundreds of hours of coaching and working with teams in off-site settings, a leader instinctively knows when it is time for a transition to happen. Certainly, there are protocols that determine the appropriate amount of time to allow for the individual’s performance to improve or for adjustments to be made to his or her role and/or responsibilities. Yet, in the end, I have seen again and again, that leaders have an instinct for when it's time for a transition. The question becomes what will that leader do when they know what the right decision is and when will they take action?
When a leader delays in doing the right thing, the weight of the issue grows with each day, week, and month, making it harder to step forward and act objectively. This leads to our emotional malaise as leaders and allows the dysfunction within the organization to spread. Delay could also cost the organization critical leadership talent at the lower levels as those people lose confidence that the matter will be addressed. We can be confident in the fact that if we're seeing nonperformance, it has already been the subject of water cooler conversation in the organization. At some point, this emotional weight and lack of decisive action creates a toxicity that is felt throughout the culture of the organization.
If you are that leader who is in that place and know you need to let one of your key team members go, then let's get grounded. First we need to evaluate the cost of this decision or your indecision. As a leader, ask yourselves these questions:
- What is the cost of the emotional and mental energy that is likely preventing me from moving forward strategically in the department with the under performing leader?
- What is the cost for the rest of my team who is having to tiptoe around the issue rather than being engaged as a highly performing team?
- What is the cost within that specific department where that leader is not meeting their goals or objectives?
Take a Step in Right Direction
Take time to think! Spend a few minutes thinking through these things will bring clarity. Writing down a note, even if it's on a napkin, gives you an opportunity to evaluate the time, money, and resources the delay in this decision is costing you. Find a person or peer group that is a safe place to verbally process and gain feedback .
After you've had to time to count the cost, seek clarity, and the perspective someone you trust you're ready for action. Part 2 of Making the Right Move will give 4 Steps towards a healthy transition.