Understanding Poor Performance in Leadership Roles

It’s inevitable that there will be times when you’re unhappy with the performance of someone on your staff. In the old days, the answer was often to try to force improvement. “Shape up or ship out” was the motto. The attitude among most leaders was that the employee needed the job more than the company needed the employee. If someone wasn’t adjusting well or doing the job, then it was time to move on to someone else.

Understanding Poor Performance in Leadership Roles
Today, many leaders realize that there may be more efficient and less expensive ways of getting the results they want than starting over. Once again, it is rooted in trying to understand the employee and the problem at hand.


Tony Zinni elaborates:


“The hire-and-fire mentality has been replaced by a developmental approach. We ask questions today that seek to identify causes for deficiencies in skill or aptitude, or for lack of motivation, poor attitudes, inability to meet objectives, or other factors that create obstacles to performance. Solutions come in the form of training, counseling and mentoring, improvement of work environment, removal of obstacles to performance, incentives, and inclusion in decision making.


Successful enterprises now view training and education programs as critical investments in their people; no longer are they considered luxuries that are the first to go onto the chopping block when budgets get tight. These programs have exponential payoffs that many old-school leaders have never been able to realize. In addition to increasing productivity, they build loyalty and improve retention.”6


Knowing your staff’s strengths and weaknesses enables you to respond wisely when you are choosing a team for an important project.


Sometimes, of course, problems are difficult to fix even with training and mentoring. In these cases, you have to decide whether or not the employee has a future with your company or if you’d all be better served by letting the person go. The more you know and understand the person, the more likely you are to make the right decision.


Wayne Downing was a four-star general with the U.S. Army. He said that “most of my bad judgment calls were generally about people. There have been times when I knew I had to take people out of a position. I knew they weren’t going to change, and they weren’t going to do what had to be done. But it’s traumatic when you do that. The higher up you go, the more traumatic it is for the organization to remove people, and you don’t like to do that, but in the final analysis you have to.”8


As a leader, you’re bound to make some personnel mistakes over the years. But if you know your team well, you’ll have the knowledge you need to make informed decisions, difficult as they may be. If you truly understand your staff, most of the time you’ll get it right.


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