Hard Conversations Don’t Have to Be Mean
Accountability begins with us, first and foremost. When we’re accountable, we resist the powerful human instinct to place blame elsewhere and instead consider how our actions or inactions contributed to our situation. Most importantly, we move towards a real solution.
One accountable leader can transform an entire culture. Holding ourselves and our colleagues accountable to meaningful standards is critical to leading high-performing teams. Accountability conversations aren’t mean conversations; they’re about seeing each other and genuinely investing in one another’s talent and growth.
Consider your favorite sports coach. What made that person a favorite? Likely, they focused on you as the athlete – building trust and seeing your potential to excel. The odds are also high that the coach pushed you physically, mentally, and emotionally to new levels. They made you better because they believed you were better. They didn’t pull any punches; they knew that hard conversations about performance didn’t have to be harsh; quite the opposite. They helped to reveal the capability inside of you through consistent and meaningful feedback.
We’re comfortable and familiar with this dynamic in athletics but often run from it in the workplace. All too often, we hear from clients, “We’ll talk about that in a few months at her annual review.” We’re scared to give real-time, performance-based feedback because we want our colleagues to like us. Difficult conversations don’t have to be mean. Better is in all of us. As leaders, supporting our colleagues as they develop and evolve is essential.
Here are a few suggestions:
Strive to be respected, not liked. Humans have two universal needs – to be respected and to be liked. We often place the need to be favored above the need to be respected in the workplace. Invert these. Strive to be respected by sharing real-time, performance-based feedback liberally with colleagues and asking for the same in return. If you stay focused on revealing the greatness of these team members, you’ll likely be respected and liked.
Genuinely care about people. When you genuinely care about your colleagues, they know it. You don’t just swoop in for the challenging discussions; you engage with people naturally, about personal and professional topics, all the time. Having a genuine relationship makes it easier to provide real-time feedback aimed at growth and development. When you care about people, you want to see them excel.
It’s not a “gotcha” game. Providing real-time feedback and holding team members accountable isn’t about playing “I gotcha” at work. It’s about seeing people for their strengths and opportunities to grow and genuinely supporting their successes while helping them overcome missteps. When we focus on bringing out the strengths of our colleagues, we’re likely to see some mistakes. Having grace in the context of coaching better is how we learn and grow as a team.
Reflect on the people in your life who saw your potential before you realized it and, most importantly, supported you in unlocking new levels of contribution. How might you pay that gift forward?