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How to navigate performance challenges and drive results with kind leadership

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Doug was sick to his stomach. The agents on his team weren’t selling like he knew they could, and the unstable market was making his own sales wobbly. Since he shelled out a significant amount of resources to help the team with marketing, social media and admin assistance, he needed them to step up. 

He set up meetings with each one. He’d review their performance and coach them on getting more from their efforts. “That’ll do it,” he said to himself. 

Kaylen walks in, sits down and smiles. Doug takes a deep breath and launches into his best coaching speech. “Be consistent,” he reminds him. “You’ve got this,” he affirms. “Why do you think you’re not doing what you know you are capable of putting out there?”

Kaylen nods, agrees and provides legitimate-sounding reasons. “You see,” he says, “It’s the market. My kids are off for the summer.” And his parents rented a villa in Italy, and how was he going to miss that? 

Kaylen promises to do better. Doug nods, tries to reinforce again the habits that would help Kaylen’s business do better and ends the meeting. 


What went wrong? 


Everything is wrong here. Doug is trying to be nice. If you ever need people to step up and do something, you’re going to hit a situation where the performance isn’t there — and you’re going to have to say something. 

The problem is most people hate conflict. They’ll have the conversation but avoid anything that might make them sound harsh, demanding, etc. They need these people, so they stick to nice and take the (often well-intended but false) reassurances that behaviour will change, and nothing will happen. 


The difference between being nice and being kind


Luckily, the solution is not to get angry, holler your brains out, or fire everyone. 

If you’re finding that nothing is coming from your conversations, you need to switch from being nice to being kind.

Nice is enabling. 

Nice kills all businesses. Being nice makes you feel resentful, frustrated and hostile. Being nice also creates confusion because, without boundaries, your people don’t know whether they’ve really done anything wrong. They will continue as is until there is a clear indication that their behaviour is unacceptable. 

People know when they’ve screwed up. They’re aware of when they’re underperforming. They likely roll around all night worrying about it. But humans don’t like to feel shame, and we want to get rid of it as quickly as possible. 

So, while they feel shame in the conversation with you about their lack of production or inconsistent behaviour, as soon as you say, “Okay, just do better,” all of that shame goes away because now the conversation is over, they said things that sounded good, and they pat themselves on the back for a job well done. 

And then go right back to the inconsistencies, avoidance behaviours or whatever else is dragging their businesses into oblivion. 

Kindness is clarity. 

Being kind is saying all the things you have to say, but with one major difference: you articulate boundaries and explain consequences. Kindness will require you to stick to your guns and take action if the boundaries are violated, but there is an unequivocal understanding of what is required. There is no confusion in kindness. Just like when we were kids, we need rules to feel safe and in control. 

Kindness is also demanding an actual commitment. We can dupe ourselves into believing we’re committed by saying things like, “I want to…I need to…. I should…. I’m trying to… and yet all of these phrases — every single one — do not fire the part of our brain that actually commits to action. Thinking that way feels like a commitment, and that’s why we do it. We don’t want to believe we’re untrustworthy or can’t be counted on. 


The formula for commitment 


The only way to truly be committed, behaviourally and neuro-scientifically, is to say, “I am doing (thing) now” or whenever — but you put it in your calendar. It is only when you give your task a time and space in your calendar that your brain actually fires properly, leading to you completing the task. The language is specific and important; otherwise, your brain stays quiet, listening to its own version of pan flute hold music. 

The formula for commitment is simple: I am doing (task) (time). 

Commitment or cowardice shows up on the calendar. You’ll know if you’re living up to your commitments if you can look back and actually see them as time chunks in your calendar. 


How to switch from nice to kind 


The next time you waffle in a conversation when you really need someone to step up, take a deep breath and be kind — but be clear. 

  1. Spell out precisely what you want, what you expect, and by when. Set boundaries. Explain potential consequences if those are appropriate. They don’t have to be harsh, but they have to exist. 
  2. Have them repeat back to you what is expected of them. 
  3. Discuss what could potentially get in the way of them completing their work. Get ahead of it. Set strategies and contingencies. Plan ahead. 
  4. Have them set out their own game plan for getting the work done. 
  5. Get out their calendar and insert actual times that they will do what needs to be done. Assign specific tasks to each time chunk; otherwise, you run the risk of them getting distracted by a thousand other things they could be doing. 
  6. Set the next conversation date and time, and be specific about what you want to see from them. 

Nice enables people to roll in their own discomfort, shame and fear. By being kind, you help them bring control back into their world, which breeds confidence, action and the level of performance that makes everyone proud. 


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