7 Of My Biggest Frustrations as a Leader


Spmeone once asked me what my “biggest frustration” is as a leader. As I thought about it, I had to be honest – I have lots. That may point to another area of struggle for me personally – and a character flaw – I’m seldom satisfied with me or where we are as a team. In many ways, I am still learning the secret of being content, but I like continual improvement and think there is usually room to get better in all areas of our life. I think it is true in leadership too.

But, the question was my “biggest frustration”, so I opened an Evernote file, titled it “Biggest Frustrations” (since I knew I had more than one) and decided to record some of my actual frustrations over the next few weeks, as they actually occurred. Some of these are mine from observing people directly and some are from the stories my readers share with me each day. When I reached seven, based on my obvious past love of the number seven, I figured it was time to share my findings.

Here are 7 of my biggest frustrations as a leader:


It bothers me in leadership to argue about things which really, in the large scheme of things, just don’t matter. Arguing about things like personal preferences or different ways of acccomplishing the same agreed upon vision only takes time from getting actual work done. I can almost always find issues of bigger significance. 


I get frustrated when people have to have things “their way”. It destroys any hope of a healthy team when people are only thinking of their personal wishes. (Doesn’t sound very Biblical to me either.)


The way you talk to someone always determines the way they respond. To me, there is no place for disrespect in an organization or on a team or in any relationship, for that matter. This should be especially true in churches. And, it applies to how we respond to the world on social media also. Even when we don’t agree with one another, we can address one another in kindness. (Remember, kindness is a fruit of the spirit.)


When someone can’t think beyond the way it’s always been done, it limits the organization from achieving all it could achieve. There are issues – Biblical, foundational, value-driven issues – where narrow-mindedness is a positive. But, in the mode of operation of the way we get things done, or how we accomplish our God-given vision, I think change is not only good – it’s vital for continued growth.


Equally frustrating is when people are unwilling to embrace change – simply because they are being stubborn. It wasn’t their idea, or it threatens their power, or they just don’t want to be uncomfortable – so they lock their arms and refuse to participate. When a person ignores what’s best for the good of everyone, and it’s not a Biblical issue, their stubbornness only hurts the organization (and frustrates the leader.)


When someone has been injured they have a choice. They can choose to hold a grudge or they can choose to forgive. Holding a grudge keeps the injury alive. Forgiving opens the door for healing. (Doesn’t seem like much of a choice to me.)


It is frustrating to observe people who seemingly have no regard for other people. They make decisions without the consideration of others. They say things without thinking how they hurt. They use their influence to disrupt an organization’s progress – rather than enhance it. They derail progress with a disregard for what’s best in favor of what’s personal to them. It’s frustrating.

There is my list. I feel better just sharing it with  you. I can now get on with my day towards more positive things. But, if I kept the Evernote file open, I might find some more, so I’ll close it for now. 

What are your biggest frustrations in leadership?

7 Benchmarks Towards Success in an Organization


Great organizations don’t just appear. There is a method to the madness. I wonder sometimes, however, if we make it seem more difficult than it is to create success in an organization. While nothing worth doing well is ever easy, there are certain benchmarks we can aim for which seem to exist in successful organizations I’ve observed.

In the church where I lead, I would say we have experienced some “success” relative to our mission in the last few years. I think there is much room for continual improvement – we aren’t fully “there” yet – but we’ve made tremendous progress.

Looking back at some of our benchmarks, there are things I knew in the beginning we needed to achieve for us to gain traction, grow and improve in accomplishing what God has called us to do.

And, having led in business, government, and now ministry worlds – these appear to be shared attributes of achieving any level of success.

Here are 7 benchmarks towards success in an organization:

There is a clear vision and strategy. Everyone knows the objective we want to achieve in the end. Why are we here? What’s our purpose? It’s clearly and succinctly communicated in a memorable, easy to embrace way. Obviously, in my world, this vision comes from God’s leading, not man’s invention, but “without a vision the people perish”. Good organizations (and churches) do also.

There are clear goals in place. People are operating with reasonable, attainable, measurable and worthy goals. They have the resources in place to complete them. These are update regularly to meet the demands at the time and to encourage continual improvement.

A great team has been recruited. This is critical. You’ll spin your wheels and never have good traction otherwise. And, because someone was a good fit yesterday doesn’t mean they always will be. As organizations (and churches) change, so do the needs of people who sit on the team. People are always the greatest asset – and frankly – can be the greatest hindrance to achieving success. Continually asking who are the right players is critical to progress.

Tasks are divided equitably – I’ve learned this one the hard way. I’ve been working since I was 12 years old. It’s all I know. I was naive early in my leadership to believe everyone shared my work ethic. They don’t. Can you believe it? (For those wondering – I believe in working hard and playing hard. I strive to honor the Sabbath. Rest is important too.) But, if an organization is to succeed everyone must pull their weight. There can be no stragglers. And, there is much hard work to be done. Everyone goes through seasons where they aren’t as productive, but if someone lingers there for a career they injure everyone else – and the vision. (I’ve learned churches can be slow in making people changes everyone know needs to be made – and they do in the names of love and grace – but sometimes it’s called poor stewardship. )

Communication is fluent – This is a tough one, because as the organization grows people know less and less about everything. People only know what they know. Over time, people become specialists rather than generalists. Communication becomes more critical, but it never seems to be enough. There’s a danger of silos developing. The challenge for any successful organization is communicating throughout the organization.

There’s a resolve to endure. Wow, this is big! I never knew how big this one was until I was in a struggling company and discovered – the hard way – some of the people I thought were most dedicated weren’t. And, it hurt everyone. If an organization (or church) wants to be successful there must be a strong, committed core of people who are in it for the long-haul – regardless of the setbacks and disappointments, which will naturally come. (Side note to my church revitalizer friends – if you don’t have some of these people, I wouldn’t think of attempting to turn around the church.)

There’s a communal atmosphere. People need to have fun! There should be a joy in the journey. They need to know they are valued, a part of something bigger than today, and they can laugh, cry, and do life together as a family would. If people think it’s only about the money – or the numbers – or the progress – they will bore quickly and never really own or try to accomplish the vision. It will be a job – not a calling or a passion.

I’m not trying to be overly simplistic if your organization is struggling, because it’s much more complicated than this in practice, but look over the list again. Upon which of these attributes does your organization most need to improve?

Perhaps spending time on this area will bring you some progress.

What would you add to my list?

Balancing the Big Deals Within an Organization – A Senior Leader Challenge


I’ll never forget the first time I found out a staff member was disappointed because he didn’t think I supported his ministry. I had said no to a budget item for his ministry, because we needed to do something in another ministry. I felt horrible. I knew personally I valued his ministry – and him – but my actions had led him to believe otherwise.

I learned a couple of things from this experience. First, I needed to communicate the “why” behind my decisions better. Second, there are some things we do as senior leaders others on the team can’t understand – and we shouldn’t expect them to.

As a leader, I have to consistently remind myself one person’s big deal may not be another person’s big deal.

Those in finance naturally believe their ministry is critical to the success of the church, which may lead them to think attention should be given to finances above everything else. It’s their big deal.

Those in small group ministry naturally believe their ministry is most critical to the success of the church, which may lead them to think attention should be given to small group ministry above everything else. It’s their big deal.

Those in worship planning naturally believe their ministry is most critical to the success of the church, which may lead them to think attention should be given to worship planning above everything else. It’s their big deal.

Those in children’s ministry naturally believe their ministry is most critical to the success of the church, which may lead them to think attention should be given to children’s ministry above everything else. It’s their big deal.

You get the point. 

Of course, the ultimate “big deal” is the vision of the organization. As a church, our big deal – our vision – is to “lead people to Jesus and nurture them in their faith“. While everyone on our team agrees with this vision, they are also rightfully passionate about – and actively involved in – their specific role in accomplishing the vision. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I want them owning their individual ministry and doing everything they can to see it prosper. But, at times this specially focused passion for their role can cloud their ability to see the needs of other ministries.

Of course, all ministries have equal importance in accomplishing the vision – therefore, part of a leader’s job is balancing all the “big deals” towards one combined BIG DEAL – the shared vision. We can’t spend all our energy, time, and resources in one particular ministry, as important as it is to the success of the church.

Frankly, finding balance between these competing big deals has always been difficult for me, and at times one ministry does require greater attention than others. The key learning for me is I must continually recognize the individual contribution each ministry brings to our overall success, while always keeping the big picture in my mind of what we are trying to accomplish. I can’t allow one ministry to cloud my perspective of other ministries.

It’s a unique role of senior leaders others on the team may not always understand – or even appreciate. And, we shouldn’t expect them to.

Leaders, do you share this dilemma? How do you balance the big deals within your organization?

5 Reasons Leaders Tend to Micromanage

mean boss

Most of the time micromanaging is not a positive characteristic of leadership. I have written previously about times I do micromanage, but these are rare. 

In fact, I avoid it if possible – some on our team may say to a fault. There are times to manage closely, such as when you’re protecting a vision, but for the most part it disrupts progress more than it promotes.

As I work in the ministry world, however, it seems very common for micromanagement to be present. It could be a pastor who wants to control everything or a church governance that controls the pastor. And, by observation, I’ve learned there are common excuses for micromanagement.

Here are some reasons leaders resort to micromanaging:


It could be fear of a number of things. Fear it will be done wrong. Fear others will think the leader is not doing their job. Fear someone else may get credit instead of the leader. When a leader feels another person may receive recognition greater than the leader – he or she is more likely to try to navigate every outcome. 


I’ve noticed when a leader is feels he or she doesn’t have what it takes to lead the team or organization – or becomes overwhelmed – when things are going badly in the church or organization – a leader often begins to control the actions of people around them. They become more strong-arm managers than visionary leaders. 

Wrong team members

When the leader doesn’t feel he or she can trust the team members, he or she is likely to lead activities normally delegated. This can sometimes fall into the valid reason for micromanagement, but it shouldn’t last long without changes being made – either changing the team or helping the team improve. 

Bad vision

The problem may not be the people – or even the leader – but the leader is pushing people to accomplish something no one buys into or simply won’t work. Sometimes it’s time to move forward, but the leader is hanging onto a sinking ship – often refusing to admit it’s sinking. This is one I’ve seen many times in declining churches. Something needs changing, but the leader refuses to do the hard work and change. 


Sadly, this is possibly the most common reason I have seen for micromanaging – and even more sadly is when I’ve seen it in the church. Some leaders relish in the idea of holding power and so, to keep the sense of control, they use their position’s authority to control rather than empower.

Leaders, are you guilty of micromanaging? Do any of these reasons apply to you?

12 Great Leadership Questions Every Leader Should Be Asking

what is the answer

One of the best things a leader can do is ask the right questions. I love to say to our team, “I only know what I know.” The leader can often be the last to know where there is a problem or what others are thinking, so asking questions is critical to good leadership.

I love this quote from Jack Welch: “When you’re a contributor you try to have all the answers. When you’re a leader, your job is to have all the questions.”

Great leaders ask great questions.

Here are 12 great leadership questions every leader should be asking:

What can we learn from this? (This is a great evaluation question – especially after something goes wrong.)

Do you understand what I’m asking you to do? (This should be asked every time a project is assigned.)

How can I help you? (This should be asked periodically – and sincerely.)

What’s next? (Great leaders are always asking this question – inside and outside the organization.)

Where should we be placing our best energy? (I like to ask this question quarterly to help plan our goals and objectives for the upcoming season.)

What am I missing or forgetting? (This question can never be asked too often. It’s sometimes good to allow people to anonymously answer this one.)

How can we do it better next time? (Great evaluation question after events or special projects.)

What do you think? (Anytime someone asks my opinion. They often already know – they just want someone to give them assurance.)

What changes could we implement to make your work life better? (This question is needed when a team member begins to feel overwhelmed – but is always appreciated.)

What would you do differently if you had my position? (I like this as an annual question to reflect on the coming year – but it’s good anytime.)

Are you enjoying your work? (You’ll get some unique answers to this one, but it should be asked regularly.)

What would you like to ask me, but you haven’t had an opportunity? (I ask this one at staff meetings and retreats. Sometimes they won’t ask in the group, but email me later.)

Pick a few of those questions, try them on your team, and let me know your results.

What question would you add? (See, there’s another great question.)

The Absolute Greatest Killer of Motivation – And 3 Suggestions


What’s the greatest killer of motivation?

We often think it is a lack of vision.

But, you can have the greatest vision ever and still see motivation dwindle and momentum die.

The fact is, we have an amazing ability to get bored with good things over time.

In fact, TIME is the greatest killer of momentum.

It doesn’t matter how much we love something, time can cause us to lose interest.

All of us can think of something we once loved, but now it’s old news. We have a the sad ability of tiring of wonderful things.

Buy a child a toy at Christmas and they love it – it’s the best Christmas ever – but a few weeks later; perhaps only a few hours – they probably aren’t as excited about it anymore. They are ready for some new toys.

Marketers know they have to keep changing things to keep us buying. We get bored easily. That’s why Apple’s stock is through the roof. They keep introducing new products because we get bored with the old ones.

If we aren’t careful, we’ll do it in our relationships too.

One of the biggest obstacles in many marriages is boredom. We quit dating – we quit courting – we quit surprising each other. Over time, we get bored in the relationship. Time kills the momentum the couple once had for each other. 

That feeling of boredom comes into the church also.

Greeting at the front door was great at first. We met lots of new people and genuinely felt we were making a difference. Now we know everyone and the job has become old. I’m bored.

Time killed my motivation.

Going to small group? Working with students? Playing in the band? Fun at first, but time has made me bored.

Perhaps you understand by now. Maybe you’re bored with this post. It was great when it started, but time has taken away your enthusiasm. Let me get to some help. It’s time.

If time is a killer of motivation, what’s the solution?

Keep retelling the vision.

Remind yourself and others of why you are doing what you are doing. If your mission is to reach people for Christ, then get excited about it again. Renew your passion for others – for lost, hurting people. Restore your first love. 

Keep practicing the vision.

Sometimes we get so busy with doing “stuff” we don’t really do what we were called to do. We are notorious at this in churches. Meetings to talk about doing missions take more of our time than doing missions. If you want to restore your motivation – do the things you’re motivated to do. If reaching broken, hurting people for Christ was the original passion God called you to do, then step away from the routines and busyness of life to start winning a few broken, hurting people for Christ again. Drop the mundane and follow the heart. Renew your personal passion by doing living the vision. 

Keep sharing the impact of the vision with others.

Most likely there are still some people motivated for the vision. Surround yourself with them. Share their stories. Let their enthusiasm rub off on you and others. Live out the vision with others who believe in it as much as you do. It will motivate you – or re-motivate you – as you share the vision with others again.

Have you seen time destroy motivation? What are you doing about it?

3 Options When You Can’t Stand the Heat in the Leadership Kitchen

Chef fire fighter

When I was growing up I frequently heard the phrase.

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Are people still saying it and I’m just not hearing it?

Either way, I love a good analogy to help me think through a topic. And, I think the phrase applies in leadership. And, I’m not sure getting out of the leadership kitchen when it gets too hot is the only option.

Are you experiencing the “heat” – the stress of leadership? 

Do you feel you are in over your head? 

Are you not able to keep up with the demands on you personally and are you, therefore, questioning your abilities as a leader? 

Do others have the perception you can’t accomplish what you are supposed to do? (Perception is often more powerful than reality.) Are you stuck and wondering what to do next?

I have been there numerous times as a leader.

At 20 years of age, I was thrust into a management position, because the manger left suddenly. By default I was given responsibility I had bluffed upper management into believing I was prepared to do. I wasn’t. When I became a self-employed small business owner I quickly realized the ball rested in my court, I was responsible for meeting payroll for others and myself, and I was in well over my head. As the pastor of fast growing churches, there have been many times I’ve not known what to do.

The heat in the kitchen was more than I could bear.

Thankfully, I’ve matured enough to admit it these days.

When you find yourself in over your head in leadership – use the analogy of the “heat in the leadership kitchen”.

I think you have 3 options:

Get out of the kitchen

There’s always that. Let’s be honest and admit you may be in the wrong kitchen. The heat may be too much for you. Sometimes you simply aren’t a fit for the role. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a fit for any role – just not this one – or in this organization. My leadership style wouldn’t work in many churches. Being willing to admit it saves you heartache, your team from destruction, and the organization from having to make difficult decisions regarding your leadership in the future – when everyone else discovers you’re out of your league or misfit. 

Learn from better cooks

Continuing with the kitchen analogy, perhaps the oven temperature is set too high. You may be using the wrong ingredients. Maybe you need better assistant chefs. I’m not trying to stir up a recipe simply to fit this point in the post (Okay, please admit that’s funny), but you may need to invite input from people who have been cooking (leading) longer than you have. Chances are good an outside look can see things you don’t see. Leadership can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) done alone. Find mentors willing to invest in you. This often begins with the humility to admit you need help and the willingness to ask for it. But, the best leaders occasionally need help and great leaders aren’t too proud to ask for it. I’ve also discovered seasoned leaders feel honored to ask. (And, as a Christian leader, remember God is on your side and He may be waiting for you to surrender before He jumps in to help.)

Improve the kitchen

Perhaps it’s the environment you’ve created in the kitchen. You may need to change the people who are seated at your kitchen table or who are watching you cook. You may need to get a better stove or, as I’ve learned, even getting the right spatula will make me a better cook. Again, I’m not trying to overuse this analogy, but the point is in leadership we usually have to get better before we can get bigger. Sharpening our personal skills, growing the strength of our team, placing the right people in positions around us and improving the organization’s culture and environment can be helpful when a leader feels overwhelmed. You have to do what it takes to become a better leader. I got a second master’s degree to help me in leadership. You may not need to go to that extreme, but you should be intentional about gaining the training and experience you need to be a lead at a higher level.

Feeling hot in the leadership kitchen? You may need to get out – but there may be other options.

Got any other kitchen leadership analogies you’d care to share?

7 Things Every Leader Needs to Quit Immediately

young woman showing her denial with NO on her hand

I’ve often wished I could say something to every leader. Some things I’ve learned the hard way. I often share things leadership should do, but today I thought I’d share some things not to do.

Some things to quit.

Here are 7 things every leader needs to quit:

Measuring success compared to another’s success.

Your leadership will not be like someone else’s leadership. It’s not designed to be. You’ll likely be successful in ways other leaders aren’t. Some of those may be visible and measurable – some may not be. The goal should be to be the best leader you can be and measure your success by your obedience to being the leader God has designed you to be.

Pretending to have all the answers.

There’s an unfair expectation many leaders face to be the person with the answer in every situation. Seriously, how’s this working for you? The sooner you admit you don’t have all the answers, the quicker your team will be willing to fill in your gaps. And, surrendering is something God values in His followers.

Trying to be popular.

If you want to be popular, be a celebrity. If you want to be a leader, be willing to do the hard tasks to take people where they need (and probably want to go), but may be resistant along the way. Leadership can be lonely at times. Be prepared.

Leading alone.

Just because leadership can be lonely, doesn’t mean you have to lead alone. Good leaders surround themselves with people who care, people who can hold them accountable, and sharpen their character and their faith. If you have a tendency to separate yourself from others, stop now and reach out to someone. Take a bold risk of being vulnerable and release some of the weight of responsibility you feel.

Acting like it doesn’t hurt.

When people you trust betray you – it hurts. Be honest about it. When people rebel against your leadership – it hurts. On days where it seems you have more enemies than friends – it hurts. Don’t pretend it doesn’t. You won’t lead well if you’re a cry baby, but you should have some outlets where you can share your pain.

Trying to control every outcome.

Three reasons not to: 1) It doesn’t work. 2) It limits others. 3) It’s not right. Leadership is not about control. It’s about relational influence. When you control others you limit people to your abilities. When you empower people you limit people to their combined abilities as a team – and – keep in mind, there’s strength in numbers.

Ignoring the warning signs of burnout.

At some point in your leadership, if you really are leading through the deep waters of change, relational differences, or simply the stress of wearing the leader hat, you’ll face burnout. When you start to have more negative thoughts than positive thoughts, when the pressure of leadership is unbearable for a long period of time, or when your leadership starts to negatively impact your physical or emotional health or your relationships, it’s time to seek help.

Which of these do you most need to quit?

7 Common Ways Leaders Waste Time and Energy


Wasting time and energy may be one of my biggest pet peeves as a leader. Some days I leave work and feel I never got off a treadmill. It’s physically and mentally draining.

Does it ever happen to you?

It can be frustrating to feel your most valuable commodity – time – has been wasted – or you invested good every on the wrong things. 

I firmly believe when we get rid of some common drains on our time and energy we dramatically improve our performance as leaders. With this in mind, I’ve observed in my own personal development some ways to eliminate time and energy wasters.

Here are 7 common wastes of time and energy in leadership:

Focussing too much attention on the naysayers.

I have found worrying over what critics are saying, especially the ones I have learned I will likely never make happy, delays progress and takes time and energy from me. Plus, it only detracts my focus from the positive people who believe in the vision and are supportive. Every decision a leader makes will make some happy and some unhappy. I need to be humble, make sure I’m not making decisions alone, and filter through the constructive criticism I need to hear – but then give my best attention to moving forward. 

Refusing to delegate.

When I make every decision, or become too controlling as a leader, I rob myself and our team of valuable extra time and energy a talented team could have provided. I feel overwhelmed more quickly, the team feels under-appreciated and we fail to accomplish as much as we should.

Second guessing decisions.

Sometimes I can wear myself out wrestling over a decision – even though I know I’ve covered all the bases I can – prayed, sought wise counsel, followed my gut. It’s often best just to make the decision. If I’m wrong, I find it is better to work to make better decisions moving forward rather than being timid about my next decision or living in a pity party of the bad ones already made.

Trying to have all the ideas.

Many leaders feel they have to be the originator of all the creativity of a team. Some do it it of pride and some mistakenly believe it’s what a leader must do. They waste time brainstorming alone and the energy created by expanding the creative process. Consequently, the best ideas often never surface. Original thoughts, better than ours, are usually in the room or the organization if we will welcome them to the table. This preserves my time and energy for more efficient uses and allows me to concentrate on things only I can do.

Living with bad structure.

Let’s face reality. Over time, rules take on a life of their own. What was once created to improve efficiency actually begins to slow progress and waste valuable time. Plus, bad structure is an energy-drainer. Change the rules – or, if possible, drop them. We need healthy guidelines, but the fewer restrictions we place on people the better they can perform – and you often free up valuable space for people to actually enjoy their work. Morale boosters are always good for productivity.


Many leaders feel overwhelmed because they don’t have good organizational skills. Learning how to better handle routine tasks such as processing emails, calendaring, and scheduling work flow each week will drastically improve time efficiency and energy to do more work. Begin each day with a checklist of “must do” activities. Take time to plan out your week. Work from a pre-determined schedule as much as possible. Learn the value of NO and use it. Being organized helps handle interruptions, which naturally come for all of us.

Completing tasks not helpful in my overall productivity.

This could be any number of things. Even reading a book, for example. Perhaps a silly example, but I have discovered sometimes I can read too much. It may sounds strange, but really it’s because I read things I didn’t need to read. I start a book and within the first chapter I know it’s not helpful, or even enjoyable, my sense of completion wants to finish. It would be better to put it aside and pick up another book. Take the novel length email I just received – I try to determine first if I’m the one who should respond. Many times I’m not – before I read and try to process – I pass it on to someone more suitable. It could be attending a meeting or supervising a project. Whatever it is – if I am not the best person for the job or it is just a time or energy waster – the sooner I say no or hand off the task, the more time and energy I preserve for other tasks I should be doing.

What time or energy wasters have you seen in leadership?

12 Hard Things to Say – 5 Ways to Say Them as a Leader

men sitting on sofa at home and talking

In any relationship, there comes a time where it’s necessary to say things which are difficult to keep the relationship strong and make it better. This is also true in a healthy team environment. All leaders have things they need to say, which are hard sometimes.

For me personally, this often involves having a challenging conversation with a team member – someone I love being on the team, but know they need correction in an area, which is affecting the team. These are always discussions I’d rather not have, but I know are necessary for the continued health of the relationship, the team, and the individual.

Over the years, I have had many of these issues which required “tough love” to address them. I began my business leadership experience in retail management. At certain times of the year there could be 100’s of associates on the sales floor. It provided ample opportunity for problems I had to address with individuals.

But, those opportunities have continued throughout my career in leadership. And, dealing with problems has included me having to say things such as:

  • You’re too controlling as a leader.
  • You can be perceived as a real jerk to people.
  • Your laziness is dragging down the team.
  • You have body odor.
  • You’re making making too many mistakes and don’t seem to be learning from them.
  • You are non-responsive to your team members or others. It’s slowing down progress and it’s unfair to everyone else.
  • Your personal life is impacting your work. How can I help?
  • You don’t know how to take constructive criticism.
  • You are too critical of new ideas.
  • You are moving too fast.
  • You are moving too slow.
  • You are uncooperative.

I should note – most of these have not been said with my current team – thankfully.

Through my years in leadership, however, I have had to say each one of these statements to someone I was supposed to be leading. Those conversations, as awkward and uncomfortable as they are, always prove to be good for the team and the team member.

In full disclosure, there have been times when someone needed to have similar “tough love” conversations with me and those discussions always made me better, as difficult as they were to receive at the time.

If you have to have one of those conversations, I have learned some principles to make them more palatable.

Here are 5 tips to have hard conversations:

Handle the conversation as quickly as possible – If the problem is clear in your mind (and usually everyone else’s mind), and you’ve witnessed the problem long enough to know it’s a pattern, don’t delay long in addressing the issue.

Be honest – This is not the time to shift blame, make excuses or dance around the issue. Be clear about the problem as you perceive it.

Be kind and helpful – You may read my post 5 Ways to Rebuke a Friend. Although this post deals more with a subordinate than simply with a friend, the previous post suggestions may be helpful here also. Your end goal should be to make the team member and the team better after the conversation. Don’t just blast a person. Use the “sandwich approach” when possible. Place the hard words in the midst of things which are good about the person and your commitment to them.

Have a two-way conversation – You should be willing to listen as much as you speak. You may not have all the facts exactly right – or you may have – but give the person a chance to respond to the criticism you are addressing. This also means you should have a two-way conversation, and not a multiple party conversation. You should address the issue with the person you have a problem with, not with others on the team behind his or her back. If you need someone in the room with you for perception issues or as a witness, make sure they are committed to privacy.

Move forward after the conversation – The person being corrected should leave with the assurance you are moving forward, and, provided improvements are made, do not plan to hold the issue against them. It will be important they see you responding likewise in the days ahead.

Know when enough is enough – You shouldn’t have to have these type conversations too frequently. Talk becomes cheap if there’s no backing to what’s agreed upon. If there seems to be no improvement over time, harder decisions or more intensive help may be needed. If you have done the other steps here, there is a time when tough love says “that’s enough – no more”. You are not doing your job as a leader if you continue to ignore the issues everyone else sees as critical to the health of a team.

One of the most difficult times for me as a leader is addressing issues like this with a team member I genuinely care about, but I know it’s one of my roles as a leader to address these most difficult issues.

What would you add to my examples of difficult conversations you have had with someone on your team?