Take the Lead
The most difficult task of leadership
is dealing with staff issues. In a “lead, follow or get
out of the way” culture, it’s everyone’s job
to work together—or get out of the way.
Some people are natural born leaders and some develop strong
leadership skills during their career. Both groups have
characteristics in common and run up against many of the same
challenges—challenges inherent in dealing with economic
and regulatory issues, client needs and expectations, and
internal issues such as staff motivation and development.
Of these challenges, many leaders feel least competent when
dealing with staff issues. This may be because, despite their
best intentions and efforts, some employees continue to be
unmotivated, unsupportive or suspicious of their leaders. These
employees do little to further a leader’s cause and may,
in fact, be roadblocks to success. Identifying, resolving
and/or eliminating staff that are not fully on board is far
more practical and appropriate than dragging these employees
along. General George S. Patton could obviously relate to this
dilemma. As he put it: “Lead me, follow me, or get out of
Before pushing them out of the way:
Make your expectations clear from the
top down. Meet with your executive staff first. Let them
know that constructive disagreement and expert advice is
expected and valued during decision making, but that once a
decision is made, it is expected that they will support, and
publicly show support for, the decision. Nothing degrades
leadership more quickly than a top executive reluctantly toeing
the line, all the while communicating to his staff and others
that, although he’s doing what is expected of him, he is
in total disagreement. Don’t let your top staff make a
scapegoat out of you. Encourage them to work within the system
to make changes, but to do so without being an adversary. And
make sure they are willing to understand and consistently
enforce established policy. If they are not, you have a nasty
trifecta on your hands in terms of morale, bench strength and
Have your executive team communicate
this message as its own throughout the organization.
They know best who on their staff is committed and who is not.
They should send the message to their group as a whole and then
meet individually with those who need the most positive change.
Have them explain that consistent negativity and lack of
enthusiasm and/or productivity is harmful to others and counter
to the firm’s goals. Just as you reminded your top team,
ensure that they remind their staff that there are options to
consider, but that remaining publicly pessimistic and/or
apathetic is not one of them.
Carefully evaluate the staff and
determine who makes the cut. There may be some unhappy,
yet valuable, employees who can be salvaged given some time and
attention, and some basic coaching and guidance. Maybe they are
misinformed or uninformed—easy things to fix. However, in
every organization there are employees who do a minimum of work
and a maximum of complaining, gossiping or rabble rousing.
These employees need to go, typically without much lead time.
If one of these employees, with termination hanging over her
head, decides that your firm really is where she wants to work
and is eager to make the necessary short- and long-term
changes—in terms of both behavior and attitude—then
you have another decision to make. It would take a lot of
convincing for me to continue to invest in a formerly
problematic employee who is changing only to avoid being cut
from the ranks.
Finally, make the necessary
changes. If there are employees, whether top executives
or entry-level staff, who are dissatisfied with their job, the
firm’s direction and/or its leadership, and there is no
hope of redemption or no interest in redeeming them, then an
alternative to outright termination is to counsel them out.
Help them realize that job satisfaction is not possible if they
stay put. Support and encourage them to look for a job
elsewhere. Let them resign rather than be terminated—it
will help them in their job search. This work is mutually
If they do not want to resign (yes, some folks would rather
be terminated), then do the deed and post the job internally or
start external recruitment right away. There are many job
seekers out there, even as the market tightens up; ones who
will value and honor the firm, its leadership and their
Take the lead and shore up your staff, from the executives
to the interns, by continuing to invest in those that drive the
business forward and discontinuing wasting resources on those
that do not. This logical approach to staff selection puts
staff decisions in the same arena as other business decisions.
Once staff understand that “lead, follow, or get out of
the way” just means “it’s everyone’s
job to work together to get where we need to go,”
you’ll have fewer barriers on the road to victory and a
more deserving group to celebrate with once you’re
Kramer, an HR consultant, is a