“God grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” -Reinhold Niebuhr
The recent coverage surrounding John McCain’s death and his history of acting with great personal courage and wisdom raises an important question: Where does the virtue of courage come from and can it be learned?
In two recent blogs, I have written about the need for courage (and acting boldly) in building high performing teams. Boldness requires acting when the outcome is uncertain. Acting with boldness is the outward manifestation of the virtue of courage, which can be defined as the ability to do what one thinks is right even when it is difficult.
Dealing with a team member you care about but is not performing (either because of a lack of ability or because his actions are harmful to the team) is a situation that demands boldness on the part of a leader. In such a situation, leaders have only limited options:
- Denial (pretending the problem doesn’t exist)
- Trying to improve the team member’s performance through feedback and coaching
- Deciding the situation is unfixable and terminating the team member
Coaching and providing feedback are almost always a good first step. That said, continuing to coach when things won’t change is a subtle form of denial and causes real harm to you (it takes valuable time), your team (having to work around the dysfunction) and your organization. It is also harmful to the team member who is not performing because of the subtle (or not so subtle) daily message that she is not performing.
Learning to act with courage and boldness requires cultivating personal discipline. Specifically, it requires learning to act decisively even when you are feeling fear and uncertainty. Here are some steps for cultivating courage and boldness:
- Learn to be present with your feelings, even when they are unpleasant. This requires becoming aware of your feelings and not pushing them away. Meditation is one way to learn this skill.
- Consult with people you trust before making a final decision.
- Seek alternatives. Is there a different role the person can succeed at?
- Accept that you can never know for certain in advance that a decision is “right”. Instead, choose a decision that is in synch with your values and then put your efforts into making the decision succeed.
- Forgive yourself when you make a mistake and use it as a learning opportunity (as opposed to a chance to beat yourself up)
The most common refrain I hear when leaders confront and ultimately act to resolve performance issues is “I wish I had acted sooner”. If you are struggling to decide regarding an underperforming team member, The Bailey Group can help you to take the next steps. Call or send us an email when you are ready!