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To Act or Not to Act? Good Question.

Updated: Dec 17, 2021

How failing to act can have a huge impact on your organization.

As leaders, people are watching (and yes, judging) our every move. When we lead by example, the example lies in both what we are doing and what we aren’t doing. Choosing to act, or not, is an important decision and both options deserve equal time and attention.

I was at lunch with a friend recently, let’s call her Michelle, and this often-neglected choice point was the centre of our discussion. She shared with me that she was feeling overworked because her manager refused to act on an under-performer on her team. Michelle, in turn, was overburdened with a heavy (almost unmanageable) workload and the poor performer was skating by with minimal tasks, no responsibility and lots of spare time on their hands. She explained that she was becoming increasingly frustrated and was contemplating leaving this workplace that she once loved dearly. Michelle wasn’t alone either. Other high performers—those trusted with 90% of the company’s business operations—were also becoming increasingly resentful and very vocal about the discrepancies.

Unfortunately, this is a common issue in a lot of workplaces. When someone’s poor performance goes unaddressed it has a wide-spread impact on the entire organization. High performers become burnt out and incapable of giving 100%, causing a dramatic decrease in productivity. People start to question why they are working so hard and engagement levels plummet. The organization becomes drained of energy, ideas and enthusiasm. All because managers are too busy, naïve, distracted, or lack the courage to act.

Not dealing with an under-performer is not the only example where failure to act has a large impact on the organization. Others include:

  • not addressing client relationships when values are mis-aligned or when customers treat your team members poorly;

  • refusing to confront serious interpersonal challenges within a team; or

  • stalling on the closure of non-performing divisions or business units.

On the flip side, there are times when we are tempted to act and we shouldn’t, such as:

  • being quick to respond to a problem without fully understanding it;

  • jumping in to save a direct report from making a mistake (and potentially learning something from it); and

  • reacting in the heat of the moment.

If you think you should act and you aren't, it's time to own up and re-gain the credibility of your team. Below are 3 simple tips to help you do just that.

1. Ask for Feedback – if you think there is a problem, there likely is. Ask the people around you—on your team, your peers, your boss—for their feedback. When doing so, be sure to be respectful if there is an individual you have concerns with. The feedback doesn’t have to be a personal attack; you are trying to clarify the impact, not disparage the individual.

2. Weigh Your Options – in the case of overburdened employees, note the effect that this poor performer has on the people you want to keep; in the case of a disrespectful client, ask what the impact is to your team—consider their motivation, energy and pride. Contemplating the outcomes of your actions may help you make a more informed decision.

3. Own Your Decision – if in the end, your decision is not a popular one, that’s okay. What’s not okay is failing to communicate both what the decision is and why you made it. Take the time to acknowledge your team’s concerns and explain the reasons behind your choice. Moving on without informing will only lead to more doubt, confusion and lack of trust.

Leadership is both action and inaction. The choices you make impacts others, even when the choice is to do nothing at all. By being mindful of your decisions and then engaging others in them, you will always come out ahead.

If you are feeling stuck or unsure on how to proceed with a difficult decision, drop me a line. Helping leaders make confident choices is what I do.

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