Since it’s Valentine’s week, I thought it would be a good time to talk about love. Tough love that is.
I know, I know. It’s a bit of a stretch, but let me explain!
What is “tough love?”
In the world of leadership, tough love is frequently known as
- having difficult conversations,
- sharing constructive feedback with your team, and
- holding your team accountable.
Leaders find it easy to thank their team members for the good work they’re doing, praise them in front of others and cheer them on with encouragement.
But many leaders find it extremely difficult (or downright impossible) to share constructive or “negative” feedback with their team. (It’s not actually negative, but more on that in a minute.) They feel uncomfortable, they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, they don’t want to damage relationships, and they don’t want to stir up conflict.
I mean, who would, right?
Why is it important to share “tough love” with your team?
When you lead a team of people, things aren’t always going to be rainbows and sunshine. In order to get to the rainbows, you’re going to have to go through some storms first. Often, the storm is the first phase you go through when you add a new member to your team. But it’s important to note that these storms can crop up at any time during their work with you.
Storms can be caused by a variety of reasons, such as…
Your team member:
- didn’t come to work on time,
- failed to complete a project on time,
- made a huge mistake in his work,
- didn’t properly record her hours worked,
- falsified how many hours he worked on a project,
- mishandled a customer interaction,
- failed to get clarification when she didn’t understand something,
- and many more.
The way in which you respond to and handle these storms will ultimately lead to the work environment and culture you’re creating in your business. It’s a good practice to always ask yourself,
“Will the decision I make during this storm lead to the kind of culture I want for my business?“
A Leader’s Responsibility
Wherever there are people working, there are going to be times when something doesn’t go quite right. We’re all human and we all make mistakes. Inevitably, if you hire a team, the storms will come.
As the leader of the team, you have a responsibility to address these things when they do happen. If you fail to do so, the problem or situation, will continue to exist, it may escalate or even become normal operating practices for your business.
Believe me, if it’s a problem now, it’s going to be an even bigger problem in the future if left unchecked.
Allow me to share a story with you now to help illustrate this point in a bit more detail. This is a real situation that happened, with a real leader, and real team members. Specific details (like names, company name, etc.) are mentioned in order to protect all involved.
A Failed Opportunity
I once worked with a team who’s leader was incredibly bright, talented, and charismatic. She was the kind of leader everyone wanted to work for – or at least they thought they did.
Her team members loved her from the start and were drawn to the same qualities that others admired in her. They felt like they were the lucky ones. But once they had been on her team for a while, they loathed working under her direction and were quite miserable.
She failed to address problems within the team and those problems grew by the day.
You see, although this was a wonderful woman with many admirable qualities, her one major downfall was that she wasn’t very skilled at having tough conversations with her team. And her team grew to resent her for this. Big time.
But, you may argue, maybe she didn’t know that there were problems within the team!
That’s the thing. She did know. She had seen things occurring herself. Her high performing team members had brought concerns to her attention. She even mentioned that she knew things weren’t getting done like they should. And yet, she failed to address any of them.
She didn’t like conflict and avoided it at all costs.
So, what happened?
The people who were slacking off, not getting their work completed and not working up to expectations continued to get worse.
The people who were high performers, well, they eventually left the team. They left until no one remained except poor performers. Along with a leader who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, lead them effectively.
The demise of this team of high potentials fell apart because the leader failed to address issues when they arose and because she didn’t like conflict.
But sharing “tough love” with your team isn’t creating conflict or being “negative.” It’s about creating alignment around our work so we can be cohesive and consistent for our customers, and so team members know and understand the expectations of all.
When we fail to do so, we end up alienating and frustrating our high performers. In essence, we sacrifice our high performers by looking the other way when some team members fail to perform. If you wish to find and keep the best and brightest team members, you will need to be prepared to fully lead your team. Including sharing “tough love” when necessary.
Leading is Like Directing a Choir
An choir must be on the same page of the song book in order to create beautiful music together. If someone is singing from page one and another is singing from page nine, the music will be chaotic and out of tune. The audience (aka customers) will be confused and dissatisfied. If the choir director isn’t there to help keep the choir on track, the whole thing falls apart.
You’re the choir director of your team. You’re there to lead, guide and ensure that your whole team is on the same page. When you fail to do so, you’re creating dissonance within your choir and the music is nothing more than a bunch of noise your audience is scrambling to turn off.
Next week, we’ll be talking about exactly how to share “tough love” with your team, so everyone can work together to create beautiful music, or rather experiences, for your customers and for one another. And so you have the tools you need in order to lead effectively.
Happy Sprouting! 🌱
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