Have you ever heard the phrase, “Leadership would be easy, if it weren’t for people.” There’s some truth to that, isn’t there? Leading people is challenging because each person is wired so differently (and yes, some people are more difficult to lead than others).
So what do you do when you have a board member, volunteer, or staff member underperforming or creating divisiveness? Check out these 5 tips below:
1. Confront the issue head on and in person
Whether it’s a board member not performing their role, or a volunteer that seems to not show up or do what they’ve committed to, don’t wait to discuss it with them. The more time that goes by the more tension is added, and quite frankly the more damage that is done to the overall morale of your team.
And while I know it’s not always possible to meet with everyone one-on-one, this should be the general rule of thumb. Things tend to spiral quickly when you result to firing off an email in a moment of deep frustration or even anger. For most of us, looking someone in the eyes brings out a level of compassion which will make the conversation softer and more likely to result in a positive outcome.
2. Avoid exaggeration
It's easy to exaggerate when we're frustrated. But in all liklihood, "that person" is probably not always late, always divisive, or always lazy. They’re probably not unfriendly or rude to everyone on the team.
It’s important to be realistic and truthful when addressing whatever behavior is making things difficult. This will allow you (and them) to honestly explore what causes or prevents the behavior, and provide powerful insights for everyone.
3. Use specific examples
If you’re anything like me, then you don’t particularly like conflict. The temptation for me when addressing these difficult situations is to keep it vague in an attempt to not hurt feelings.
I might be tempted to say something like, “I really appreciate you and the different ways you’ve contributed to the organization, but I just don’t feel like you’re 'all in' anymore.” There are a few problems with this kind of generic feedback. First, you don’t really give them anything specific they can do to show you they’re “all in.” And secondly, they can simply come back with, “oh you must be reading the situation wrong, I actually am all in.”
Instead, describe specifically what has led you to this conclusion:
- On Sunday when you showed up 15 minutes late with no notice and things got missed, I felt like you no longer care about this team or this organization.
- Two months ago, you agreed to help me recruit several new donors to help us reach our goal and you haven’t recruited a single one which makes me feel as if you’re not really “all in.”
The goal is to have a productive and fruitful conversation and to not necessarily illicit a defensive argument.
4. Listen well
State your specific concerns or objections, and then give them a chance to talk. Most of us are not only uncomfortable with these difficult conversations, but we’re also uncomfortable with silence. For that reason, we tend to talk and talk and talk some more. I get it. However, often these difficult conversations have been nothing more than a misunderstanding. And even if not, the only way to fully explore the issues and find a resolution is to have all of the information on the table and to look at it objectively. Make your statements and observations, and then allow them speak into those. There's likely something that you will learn from them as well.
5. End with a specific plan
Difficult situations rarely, if ever, fix themselves. And even simply addressing the negative behavior or patterns is rarely effective enough. There needs to be a plan.
- What specifically do you need to see from this board member moving forward?
- How can this volunteer gain your trust again?
- What benchmarks does this staff member need to achieve to prove they deserve their role?
The plan should be specific and measurable, and a follow-up meeting to review their performance should be scheduled in the near future where honest feedback can be given.
I know first-hand that these sorts of meetings aren’t easy. Often as a leader of a team or an organization you want to sit back and just hope the situation corrects itself, they get a different job, or God miraculously transforms their negative patterns overnight. But rarely is that the case. If there’s any hope of saving the relationship, the morale of the team and keeping the mission moving forward with this person coming along, it’s going to require a lot of intentionality and a few uncomfortable conversations to get there.
At the end of the day (in my experience), it’s all worth it. The situation doesn’t always get turned around. Sometimes a board member is asked to resign, a staff member is fired, or the volunteer leaves upset. But more times than not, progress is made, and the good work you're doing is once again the main focus of your team, and your time.