Leader as Counselor – Preparing for Your Intervention!

Just as a child does with a baby-sitter, employees (with their colleagues and managers) attempt to learn the behaviors they can get away with and/or demonstrate.

There will be times when a problematic player will come across your path. As a leader, it is your responsibility to step up to the plate and address them. Remember the management adage, “Out of sight, out of mind” and any astute leader knows that it does not right itself on its own!

If you have a problem player on your team, and no other management intervention styles have produced meaningful results, you have no alternative but to engage them. This managerial-leadership intervention style is known as the “Counselor” or “Disciplinarian” approach. To ignore the problem will never result in a changed positive behavior and will only serve to create similar negative behaviors from others on your team, becoming cancerous to the future of your organization.

Preparing for a counseling session with a problem player can be best addressed by breaking the process down into three distinct phases: Before the Session, During the Session, and After the Session. Consider:

  1. Before the Session: Start with an agenda so you will remain focused on what to address and, subsequently, what is off limits. Before investing any further time, determine if this agenda is best addressed by other’s within your organization (i.e. Human Resources, Legal, Union stewardship, etc.) before you proceed. If these stop-gaps are not appropriate, then proceed by gathering the necessary documentation to allow you to start face-to-face conversations with statements like, “I have observed,” rather than, “It has been brought to my attention.” If someone has brought a concern about another individual to you, ask him or her to write it down and sign it. Do not push for this to be done because it will allow you to see if there is, in fact, a problem or rather a personality conflict among individuals into which one is attempting to pull you. Consider the best time for this intervention by reviewing the agenda and determining how much time is appropriate. Hold the meeting in a location where the most meaningful interaction can take place with the least amount of interruptions and noise. Consider the appropriateness of an observer by taking into account the sensitivity of the subject matter, the personality involved and whether or not the other party will have an observer or representation in this meeting (a possible norm, for example, if you manage within a union or government environment). If you decide an observer is appropriate, have one of your peer levels or higher serve at your disposal in this situation. Their only role is to be an observer, take notes and support you…they should not dialogue or become verbally involved to the point that the other party recruits them to their cause! Also, pre-design solutions to this situation that has warranted you wearing the counselor hat of leadership.

  1. During the Session: Start by providing the problem player with a copy of the agenda you designed for the session (unless otherwise required, never provide the problem player with the agenda in advance!). During the session, express that while there are problems with specific behaviors, you are not attacking them directly; your desire is to solve this issue and move forward. Take aggressive notes during the session, writing down anything they say (if they are not very communicative or they grunt and moan a lot, write that down too). Work to get both mini and many agreements to the agenda points. Be sure to let them know the gravity of the agenda and draw upon the leverage you have to stimulate a change in the behavior – this is not the time to worry about how to win friends and influence people, it is about the levels of pain that can be inflicted upon them if they don’t immediately change! Work for an action-resolution plan that can be implemented. Establish follow-up timelines where you two “WILL” get back together to ensure measurable forward momentum is taking place. This follow-up time schedule will serve as an additional motivator for both of you to ensure that no one leaves, makes minor adjustments and eventually digresses back to the same old problematic, cancerous behaviors.

  1. After the Session: You will want to set aside time immediately after the session to ensure that the items on your agenda were actually addressed, and you did not become sidetracked during the session. Along with any other official paperwork that you may have to complete in your organization, take a clean copy of the initial agenda and send a follow-up note recapping your appreciation for the meeting and what was agreed upon and offering your continued support to the action plan; this after-action review packet will serve as a reinforcement to them. Afterward, take a copy of that letter, the agenda and any notes taken during the session (along with any other forms) and staple them together for your personal files.

Review the precise value the player in question brings to your team, what acts they perform and what unique skills they posses. Can you survive without them? If not, delay (not avoid) the session until you have a contingency plan and/or backup players capable of fulfilling what the problem player is supposed to be doing in case the player decides to quit.

Never beg a problem player to stay, for the moment you do, they own you and the organization!

As a leader become very confident that the over whelming court ruling are in your favor if you must terminate a poor performer and problem employee (SUPERVISORS LEGAL UPDATES newsletter, July 23, 2003 edition). If you have documentation of the problem and attempts to civilly interact with them to address the issues, don’t be threatened by impending litigation or threats of litigation by your problem player!

As a leader, how you handle the behavior of any single poor performer will be observed by all and serve as a headline for actions out of others in the future.

-Dr Jeff Magee
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http://JeffreyMagee.com

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