Don’t Crush the Desire to Excel
For leaders, disappointing people comes with the job. When the people we coach or parent are not ready for the next challenge or have not earned the reward they have worked toward, we are obligated to tell them that their efforts have fallen short of the goal.
In many cases, the person on the receiving side of this feedback is not in agreement, making this conversation even more difficult. We have a natural tendency to explain our decision and to prove to this disappointed person why they have fallen short. This compounds the hard feelings they experience.
The best leaders take a different tack. They use a common phrase that conveys optimism and also allows for an honest discussion of what needs to be done in the future to obtain the prize or reward: “Not Yet.” “Not Yet” encourages others to work even harder and not to engage in the self-pity of failure. When a hard-working direct report has not earned the promotion they desire, or a colleague is not ready to cover a prized client, or an athlete will not make the final roster of players, try the conversation that begins with “Not Yet.”
“Not Yet” is hugely optimistic without making a promise. It conveys an optimism that with hard work and dedicated practice, it is only a matter of time before the outcome might be achieved. When you tell someone in the spirit of honest feedback, “You don’t measure up,” “You don’t have the talent,” or “You haven’t earned the grade,” you deflate their desire to work ever harder to achieve. Feedback, no matter how accurate, should never rob others of their desire to excel. That’s why the best leaders marry encouragement with honest assessment. “Not Yet” does this by focusing on a brighter future.
You have to be honest as it serves nobody's good to "not yet" a report that clearly doesn't have what it takes and encourage them to spend time and effort on a fruitless attempt to attain goal they'll never reach.
A good leader needs to calmly and authoritatively explain the "why" behind the bad news. If improvement is needed and possible - discuss what that is and provide aid for them to improve. If there's no way the report's going to get to a goal (lack of temperment, physically not capable, missing skill fit, etc.), then say so in a firm manner with dignity, compassion, and respect.
And if the leader sees something else that their report may be better / happier doing, then diverting the report could be a win all around.