Have you ever noticed how we tend to hire fast and fire slow in organizations? That’s because leaders shy away from managing the performance of their under-performers. They avoid engaging in the process, instead choosing to shove their heads in the sand waiting for the wind to blow past them and everything to get better on its own. Have you ever had an under-performer who actually got back on track simply by figuring it out on their own?
Ostrich management, as it’s often called, simply doesn’t work. Underachievers aren’t likely to get better on their own. If they haven’t figured it out yet, what makes you think they will now? Under-performers don’t turn things around and become star performers without focused and intentional training and management intervention.
I have a CEO client whose direct report has not been meeting expectations for quite some time. Business has fallen short of the stated targets, and until very recently this team member – who is himself a C-level executive – didn’t even realize the company was consistently delivering unprofitable work under his leadership!
One of my former coaching clients contacted me earlier this week looking for direction. Now I’ve had several clients over the years share with me during our coaching programs that they regularly find themselves wondering “W.W.J.D.?” When my first client shared that acronym for “What Would Jeremy Do?” with me, I laughed. Since then, I’ve simply come to appreciate that my role as an executive coach is to shift my clients’ thinking with new insights and ideas whether I’m there by their sides or not.
This one was different though. I haven’t coached this leader for several years, and he’s now CEO of a completely different organization. These are unprecedented times though, so I probably shouldn’t be surprised that even he’s looking for some outside perspective on how best to make decisions with all of the uncertainty around Coronavirus. He was in the process of drafting communications about their future plans for his key customers, and as he put it, “No one really knows what October is going to look like!”
The guidance he needed comes from the distinction between “Now” and “Not Now”. You might think you know what “now” means. Sure, it’s right now. If you’re open to it, now can mean so much more than that though. Now serves as a powerful way of classifying anything that exists and is already being managed, whether it’s in this very moment or something for which we’ve already planned. Now, I’m writing an article about decisive leadership. I’m also handling several other things now though.
These are uncertain times to say the least. For those who still have jobs, most are working from home. Those who are in essential positions may be working at their company’s worksites with heightened concern for their health and wellness. As long as this Coronavirus crisis continues and these “safer at home” guidelines are in place, we all are living with much more anxiety and stress than usual – without our usual outlets to rest and recharge.
Whose job is it then to keep your team members calm, composed, and focused? I’ve considered new titles like “Chief Engagement Officer” for all the CEOs out there, but the reality is that some CEOs aren’t comfortable or capable playing this vital role. So who is it in your organization? A Business Unit leader? Another senior executive? Maybe your head of HR? Someone needs to assume the position of “Chief Communication Officer” right now if your company is going to be productive and survive this crisis.
I’m not going to let CEOs off the hook just yet though for not being positive role models and engaging their employees directly. Business owners and Presidents/CEOs need to step up during this crisis. Your people need to hear from YOU right now. Not just their direct supervisors or middle-level managers. YOU! Nobody can generate the same positive energy and enthusiasm or settle a workforce like the owner/CEO of a business. More importantly, most of your next-level leaders are less than effective in cascading information from higher-level leadership in the best of times. It’s unreasonable – and quite frankly, unfair – to expect more from them now given everybody’s heightened emotions and anxiety. No matter how good they are, wouldn’t you agree that they aren’t Chief Communication Officer caliber?
I recently led a Leadership Team offsite to review last year’s strategic objectives for this growing organization and set new goals for the year ahead. One might think that the entire focus of this two-day event would be calibrating everyone’s efforts for continued growth. While that clearly was our context and guiding intention, how we got there was less of a direct path.
Fortunately for this organization and the many customers it serves, each of the business owners believes in team development and creating camaraderie to inspire greater performance from their leaders. As a result, our two-day schedule was not nearly as packed as it could have been. Instead, we took much of the first afternoon to go kart racing. And by kart racing, I mean experiencing one of the greatest racetracks ever built at Road America, one of the greatest race courses in the United States.