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Giving the Proverbial Kick-in-the-Pants Pep Talk
Every once in a great while, an unmotivated team member requires a swift kick in the backside to reenergize their focus. Challenging others to step up, be accountable, and do the job is not a conversation good leaders avoid.
A recent loss of work ethic, extremely poor performance, unforced errors, or a lethargy about the work are all good reasons to engage in the so-called Pep Talk. Like almost everything to do with leadership, there is a good way and a bad way to lay such a challenge down.
Challenging others without demotivating them further requires a skillful exchange, one that is framed in the positive rather than the negative. The key is to begin the message by underlining a strong belief in the team member BEFORE making the appeal to improve. When a challenge begins with affirmation, it is more likely to be viewed as demanding as opposed to demeaning.
Preface the need to do better with statements like:
“When you focus, no one is better than you.”
“You get to the crux of issues faster than anyone I have ever seen.”
“No one has more potential than you to be a star.”
“Your colleagues would do anything to have your skills and talents.”
“Your raw brain power is heads and tails above everyone else.”
Finding the right affirmation to emphasize is difficult for some leaders when they are hugely disappointed in a team member, but that is what the job of leadership requires. Underlining a truthful strength or asset before the challenge affirms that the leader believes the team member can turn things around if they want to.
Negative statements that refute the person’s strengths undermine respect and come off as an admonishment:
“I knew this role was going to be a stretch for you.”
“I shouldn’t have expected so much from you.”
“My confidence in you has been ill-founded.”
Beginning with a negative frame will likely result in resistance and discouragement.
Team members need the leader’s help to dig deep and overcome whatever obstacle stands in their way to superior performance. They are more likely to accept the test when the leader shows belief in their talents before offering the challenge.
Leaders often think that how a team member responds to a hard performance message reflects their mettle and character. The truth is, character is most in play with how the leader frames the challenge. It takes a strong and principled leader to offer a positive challenge.