By Michael Holland

I ran a red light yesterday.  Not intentionally, mind you, but clearly I did run the light.  I was in a new area and looking for my next turn when I found myself coming up to an intersection with a light that was already yellow.  It’s that moment in time, the split second that you have to make a decision and with all the information at hand, I made the decision there was no way I could stop in time.  So, forward I went.  The light turned red and I found myself running a red light. . . . with my 17 year old son staring at me.

Leading a team of employees is a lot like coming up to a traffic light.  Each employee can be viewed as green or yellow or red.

  • Green Light – These employees have the right skills, great potential and are in the right role at the moment.  In the words of Jim Collins from Good to Great fame, they are on the bus and in the right seat.
  • Yellow Light – These employees are questionable.  They are either 1) a problem performer or 2) a great performer but are in the wrong seat on the bus.
  • Red Light – These employees are a problem.  They should not be on the bus at all.  Your bus is going over the Rocky Mountains to San Francisco and these employees should be on the bus heading to anywhere else.

traffic light dashboard

A red light employee seems to cause the most trouble for many leaders.  This employee is the one who continues to behave badly bringing down the team but the leader avoids dealing with the employee because they are “so valuable.”  Sure they are a tremendous drag on the team due to bad behaviors/attitudes BUT that employee is the one who gets the work done or has critical technical knowledge or is the only one the leader can count on or blah, blah, blah reason.  Leaders believe that the good stuff that employee accomplishes outweighs the bad stuff.  This is a fallacy and a rationalization to avoid the real work of leadership.

We like to call these employees the red lights because you should stop and do something.  You can choose not to but those who continue to run red lights will eventually be part of an enormous accident.  And every red light you run there’s someone watching who is impressionable.  What message are you conveying to those watching?

Leaders leading well develop a habit of running a stop light leadership assessment every so often during a year to assess and take action on their green light, yellow light and red light employees.   

This simple form will help you to create a dashboard of sorts for your assessment.  The critical portion of this tool is the action plan at the bottom, “The Next 5 Actions I will Take . . .” which is where the real work of leaders starts.

Become a better leader and perform this assessment now, right now.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • Take 12 minutes and complete the form for your team.  Share your assessment with peer manager and ask them to check in on your progress with regard to the next 5 actions you will take.
  • Share a blank copy of the form with your boss and ask her where you would fall on her assessment of her team.  Are you a green, yellow or red light?
  • Do you have a red light employee?  Why is it so hard to take action on them?  What do you perceive is the tremendous value they bring that outweighs the health of the rest of your team?