A leader’s three tools

How leaders should address employees’ workplace struggles

Everyone wants to succeed. Everyone wants to win. But no one gets to go through life without experiencing failure or hardship. As a leader, seeing your people struggle is a difficult thing.

When things get off track, you want to jump in and help. But in the end, all you can do for them arises out of three things: Grace. Resources. Accountability.

  1. Grace: Being understanding and compassionate toward your people when they are struggling is something you have to lean into. Give them every break you can afford so they have time to learn, time to recover, and time to get their act and themselves together. Don’t throw out good people for poor performance when all they needed was a little time and understanding. In the end, the grace you give is the grace you get. Don’t be stingy with it.
  2. Resources: Managers will toil away faithfully with what they have, not asking for help for a surprisingly long period of time. Some will fail entirely without a peep. There’s a lot of pride and fear of failure in the workplace, so offer resources early and often. Those could include using your influence to support your people, providing training, clearing away administrative hurdles, addressing personnel or departmental conflicts that slow progress, hiring temps or additional staff, or approving incentives.
  3. Accountability: After you have poured all of the grace and resources you can on a problem, sometimes you have to hold people accountable. This should always be done with maximum compassion and minimum drama. Respectfully calling people out on situations and outcomes provides a venue to create more understanding and move forward. It’s easier to complain to colleagues, of course, but that does not get the problem fixed. You must address situations and sit in the mess. If you decide discipline or even termination is warranted, be gracious and kind about it. People do not need to see your face get red as you pound on your desk. That is more a sign of a leader’s fear than their power.

Next time you have people who are struggling, these three things are what you have to work with. They might help you make a better choice.

Leadership is a complex and evolving landscape. Every time you take a step forward, the view changes. It is hard to convey how to navigate it. But the best leaders realize that it isn’t about knowing the maps. It’s about developing the tools you need to find your way through the unknown, so you never really need to be in charted waters to begin with.

Under the direction of President and CEO Daniel Flowers, the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank has been consistently named one of the NorthCoast 99 Great Workplaces and the Feeding America Food Bank of the Year in 2012, the highest honor achievable by food banks.