During a recent coaching session with an executive, my client struggled with how to manage an employee with skilled performance but poor behavior. She said, “Leadership is a lot like parenting.” Curious, I asked how so?

“Sometimes it seems like my employees test the limits to see what I’ll do just like leadership-work-culturemy kids do! I want to be a fun boss, but not a micromanager constantly after people to do their job like I’m after my kids to do their chores.”

Who owns the problem?

A parent’s role is to equip kids with life skills. A leader’s role is to equip employees with skills to be successful and allow employees to learn from their choices. Leaders need to find a balance to avoid micromanagement.

Unconsciously, sometimes leaders can take on problems that are their employee’s responsibility to solve. It can happen for a variety of reasons from being a caring person to overlooking problematic areas because it might cause conflict. Whatever the reason, when an employee does not fulfill his/her responsibilities, ask the question “who owns the problem?”

When leaders own the problem

  • Have I been clear about expectations?
  • Have I provided the needed training for the employee to do his/her job?
  • Are other people or the company negatively affected by the employee’s performance or behavior?
  • Am I asking the employee to do jobs outside of his/her skill set?
  • Have I outlined what will happen if things don’t improve?

Your leadership responsibility

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you own the problem and need to take action. It is your responsibility to intervene in order to protect the well being of all of your employees and to fulfill your organization’s mission. While your employee is responsible for his/her behavior and choices, you are responsible to take action when problematic performance or behavior arises.

When the employee owns the problem

  • Does the poor performance or conduct continue after you addressed it?
  • Has the employee attended training or coaching you provided to improve?
  • Do you continue to receive complaints about the employee’s performance or behavior after he/she received training or coaching?
  • Does the employee blame others for his/her problems and make excuses for lack of improvement?
  • Did you outline consequences for continued poor performance or behavior?
  • Was there improvement after the employee became aware of the consequences?
  • If the employee did improve, did that improvement fade back to old behavior or was it sustained?

If the answers to the above questions are yes, the employee owns the problem.

Leadership, like parenting, is more of an art than a science. From my years as a family therapist, the family leaders I worked with created an environment (culture) for kids to thrive. These family leaders are clear about who owns the problem and they act accordingly.

Contact Bonnie to clarity about who owns the problem with your employees and what you can do about it.

Workplace Conflict Expert Bonnie Artman Fox, MS, LMFT, works with executive leaders and team managers who want to stop divisive behaviors, resolve conflict, and build the team trust needed to create a healthy work culture.  Contact Bonnie to help your employees get along and bring teams together.