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Observing many different companies in many different industries at work, I have come to a conclusion about what weaknesses are most common in leaders. There are several, one of which is tolerance.

One might suspect that tolerance is good. It allows people to be creative, to be able to own their job and participate willingly and ably in the enterprise. A certain degree of tolerance by a leader is good. However, what I note is that tolerance is often borne of a lack of energy, assertiveness, sense of direction and courage.

The manifestation of these low levels of components of emotional intelligence is leaders who are unwilling to counsel and confront chronic underperformers or people with ongoing poor behaviours.

Most, if not all leaders, would agree that part of their remit is to coach others. The problem is that many leaders use only part of the coaching range. They use the easy parts.

There are five coaching techniques generally available to a leader. They are to educate, encourage, sponsor, counsel and confront.

Educate: To help a person learn by explanation and demonstration on how to do things.

Encourage: To help a person understand how to improve what they are already doing. To agree on things we can do to help them do their tasks better.

Sponsor: To challenge a person to do even better by putting them in a different environment, like a project team. To put them in an environment which will “stretch” them.

Counsel: To advise a person what the consequences are of continual underperformance and determine what we can do to improve their performance. To agree a timetable of detailed actions and review points.

Confront: To explain why the behaviour or task completion level is not acceptable and ask what they will do, by when, to correct the behaviour or improve task completions.

A simple way of understanding when to use the different techniques is to consider a two by two matrix which plots willingness and ability. The appropriate techniques for each quadrant are:

Willing and able: Sponsor, these people are doing well and need to be challenged. Be sure to also give them encouragement.

Willing but unable: Educate and encourage. They are trying hard but just have not got the skill yet. Attitude is anywhere up to ninety percent of the battle.

Unwilling but able: Counsel their unwillingness initially and encourage their ability. If the behaviour persists despite an agreement on what each of you will do to help them change their behaviour, move to confront them.

Unwilling and unable: Confront them. It may well be that this job is not right for them and it would be best for all if they sought another job. Take care about offering another job in the same organisation. Unless their willingness improves you are just passing on a bad apple to someone else.

The first three techniques of the coaching range come in different guises, such as the sandwich technique or the GROW model, which is also very useful for counselling. Most leaders have encountered some training or exposure to techniques along the way which prepares them for educating and encouraging, less so for sponsoring and counselling and little, if at all, for confronting.

It is important, however, to have counselling and confronting in your armoury of techniques.

The counselling process follows this general pattern:

  1. Define the nature of the problem and the potential consequence of its continuance.
  2. Ask for reasons, listen and be empathetic, not sympathetic. Encourage a full sharing of “their side of the story”.
  3. Determine together the action required of each of you to resolve the problem.
  4. Agree an improvement plan, with separate and joint actions with time lines.
  5. Close the session on a positive note summarising the improvement plan, sharing optimism for the necessary changes.

The confrontation process which is invoked after at least two counselling sessions, unless the behaviour is of a very serious nature, follows this general pattern:

  1. Define the nature of the problem and the definite consequence of its continuance.
  2. Revise previous reasons for the problem and agreed actions and timelines.
  3. Ask for their plan of what they are going to do to change their behaviour.
  4. Agree their improvement plan.
  5. Close the session on a cautionary note, summarising the change in behaviour which must occur by an agreed time for the consequences outlined to not occur.

Note the change in responsibility for the problem from shared between the leader and the subordinate to the subordinate only. The accountability, of course, always remains with the leader.

The other significant change is in the probability of a consequence. In counselling the consequence must be noted and considered as something which is possible, even quite likely, of occurring. When confronting, the consequence must be seen as inevitable if the performance or behaviour does not change. Therefore, never, ever highlight a consequence which you cannot carry through with when you are confronting. That is threatening rather than confronting.

Most people do not enjoy counselling and loathe confronting. Many will avoid both forms of coaching. What has to be realised is that if you are not willing to use counselling and confronting in your coaching range, you are letting down the rest of the people who are at least willing, if not willing and able.

Jack Welch popularised the 10:70:20 rule. It implies that in an organisation, twenty percent of people really want to do a good job. Ten percent don?t care or are unable. Seventy percent are watching what happens to the ten and twenty percent to see which way they might lean.

Tolerating poor performance and unsatisfactory behaviour leads to a wholesale lowering of standards and a lack of motivation amongst employees as there is no differential of risk and reward for good and bad behaviour and performance. The seventy percent lean towards not caring and not improving their skills.

If that tolerance is because of unwillingness by you as a leader to counsel and confront, then you may be in need of counselling about your leadership.

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