By Michael Holland

I worry at times that the gap which exists between leaders leading well and those who won’t is growing wider and deeper.  Recently I re-watched the TED Talk  “Why Good Leaders Make Us Feel Safe” by Simon Sinek.

In the talk, Sinek inspires with stories of how true leaders provide a circle of safety and focused in on the phrase that “a leader sets the tone.”  Unfortunately, we have some — maybe too many — leaders who are setting the wrong tone and simply being unfair to employees and the organizations in which they work.

Have you behaved in any of the ways below as a leader?

Playing Employee Hot Potato 

The employee has been bounced around from department to department or project to project or office to office.  They underperform or they are “relationally challenged” or they are just a bad fit but the leaders in the organization continue to keep them around.

Some leaders might think protecting the employee shows good values for taking care of the weak.  Other leaders just want to avoid the conflict.

Leaders leading well, who end up with one of these employees, deal with the issue setting appropriate work and behavior expectations while creating accountable time tables for required improvement.  And if there isn’t improvement, take the necessary next steps.

Not Singling Them Out

During the full staff meeting the big boss talks about the importance of getting to work on time.

All 45 employees listen knowing full well exactly which employee is chronically late.

Why on earth does this big boss waste everyone’s time versus taking the one employee to task regarding their behavior and managing it as a performance issue.

Leaders leading well leverage staff meeting time to build the culture, motivate the team, and create momentum.

Leaders leading well deal with individual performance issues . . . they just do it.

Wimpy and Dishonest Performance Reviews

You sit down to develop a performance improvement plan for an employee who is struggling.

Looking back over the last 10 performance reviews, you see a definitive trend: all ratings are more than satisfactory, fluffy comments, and consistent raises.

But in conversations with the employee’s previous bosses they told you how difficult the employee was to manage and that they were consistently a low, ineffective performer.

Well there you go.  This poor employee has no clue they haven’t been pulling their weight because no leader ever took their job seriously enough to actually tell them.

Now here you are with a 48 year old employee who is likely going to lose their job and be totally in shock because for the last 10 years no boss had the integrity, fortitude and compassion to be honest with the employee.

Leaders leading well leverage performance reviews to recap the communications they have been having with the employee throughout the year and they guide the employee to a seat on the bus where they can succeed or they guide the employee off the bus (see Jim Collin’s Good to Great book for the bus reference.)


Leading others is not an entitlement.  It is an honorable role that requires extra work, tremendous energy and personal fortitude to step forward in the lives of  humans we label as employees.

Either step up and lead or get yourself demoted to an individual contributor.  And if it’s the latter, voluntarily give up your entitlements and inflated pay.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • Have you had a the misfortune of a hot potato employee landing on your team?  How did that feel and what did you do?
  • Is this Leadership Learning Moment too harsh?  Grab two peer managers and discuss.
  • Invest 12 minutes to watch Sinek’s video.