Hard Things To Say As a Leader

Difficult Conversations

In any relationship, there comes a time where it’s necessary to say things which are difficult to keep the relationship strong and make it better. This is also true in a healthy team environment.

For me, this often involves having a hard and challenging conversation with a team member.

This is often someone I love being on the team, but know they need correction in an area that is affecting the team. These are always discussions I’d rather not have, but I know are necessary for the continued health of the relationship, the team, and the individual.

Tough Love

Over the years, I have had many of these issues which required “tough love” to address them, but dealing with problems like this have included me having to say things such as:

  • You’re too controlling as a leader…
  • You can be perceived as a jerk to people…
  • Your personal life is dragging down the team
  • You have body odor
  • You’re making unwise decisions
  • You are non-responsive
  • You don’t know how to take constructive criticism
  • You are moving too fast
  • You are moving too slow
  • You are uncooperative

I should note that not all of these have been said with my current team. For example, to my knowledge no one on my team has body odor… (thankfully,) but through my years in leadership, I have had to say each one of these statements to someone I was supposed to be leading.

These conversations, as awkward and uncomfortable as they were, always proved to be good for the team and the team member.

There have been times when someone needed to have similar “tough love” conversations with me and those discussions always made me better, as difficult as they were to receive at the time.

 5 Principles for Dealing With Those Times

Handle as quickly as possible

If the problem is clear in your mind (and usually everyone else’s mind), and you’ve witnessed the problem long enough to know it’s a pattern, don’t delay long in addressing the issue.

Be honest

This is not the time to shift blame, make excuses or dance around the issue.

Be kind and helpful

You may read my post 5 Ways to Rebuke a Friend. Although this post deals more with a subordinate than simply with a friend, the previous post suggestions are helpful here also. Your end goal should be to make the team member and the team better after the conversation.

Have a two-way conversation 

You should be willing to listen as much as you speak. You may not have all the facts exactly right…or you may have…but give the person a chance to respond to the criticism you are addressing. This also means you should have a two-way conversation, and not a multiple party conversation. You should address the issue with the person you have a problem with, not with others on the team behind his or her back.

Move forward after the conversation 

The person being corrected should leave with your assurance that you are moving forward, and, provided improvements are made, do not plan to hold the issue against him or her. It will be important he or she sees you responding likewise.

Know when enough is enough 

You shouldn’t have to have these type conversations too frequently. Talk becomes cheap if there’s no backing to what’s agreed upon. If there seems to be no improvement over time, harder decisions or more intensive help may be needed. If you have done the other steps here, there is a time when tough love says “that’s enough…no more.”

One of the most difficult times for me as a leader is addressing issues like this with a team member I genuinely care about, but I know it’s one of my roles as a leader to address these most difficult issues.

What steps would you add to my list? What would you add to my examples of difficult conversations you have had with someone on your team? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Ron Edmondson is Co-Pastor at Grace Community Church
He specializes in Communication, Strategy, Org Behavior, Mgmt and Marketing
Email LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Blog | Web

Image Sources: liquidlearn.com


3 responses to “Hard Things To Say As a Leader

  1. Very nice article, well written as well. I particularly like the “move forward after the conversation” ! That part is very important and often leaders forget to follow through on it.


  2. Pingback: Team Conflict – Adversarial Employee – Part II « Business about Business·

  3. Pingback: What a Leader Should Never Say | The Search for Effective Leadership·

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