Rethinking Leadership’s Approach to Underperforming Employees

Born out of the halls of Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital, an entirely new approach to treating and serving challenging youth has been developed. Think Kids is a neurobiologically-grounded evidenced-based approach that operates under the guiding principle that kids do well if they can. When they don’t, it’s because they lack the skill and not will. Few kids the world around wake up in the morning and determine that they are going to do their worst today. They simply lack the skills to process the world around them appropriately and often engage in destructive or delinquent behaviours as a result of those subpar skills.

Similarly, employees do well if they can. When they don’t, it’s because they lack the skill and not will.

If you’ve been in management for any length of time, you might scoff at that notion given previous experiences with challenging employees. You may have encountered several employees who seemed to lack the will to put in the work, or the determination to see a goal through to the end. Yet, is that what they intended when they woke up that morning? When you hired them, do you seriously believe they were determined to fail? Could it be that they have simply arrived at this point in life lacking the personal and professional skills to navigate the demands of this particular season successfully?

What Think Kids has discovered, and the science has affirmed, is that the preponderance of evidence suggests that when children or adults possess the proper skills, they self-actualise towards success. It becomes less about punishing someone because you suppose you’ve just stumbled across a lousy lot of your fellow humans.

It is often most difficult for leaders to consider underperforming employees from the perspective of lagging skills, because the burden then shifts back to the leader. If the problem is not Bob, but Bob’s lagging skills, then either you help him to develop those skills, or you do not. Yet the same principle as before applies – leaders do well if they can. When leaders fail, it is often because they lack the skill rather than the will to succeed.

As a straight-talking organisation, we frequently push our clients to consider the broader lagging skills within their leadership population, as a contributing factor for the challenges they face across their population as a whole. To reiterate the point, leaders do well if they can. When they don’t, it’s often because they lack skill and not will.

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