Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
October 2016   |   By Dan Gaynor

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The Pain Problem

There is no question that pain presents a significant problem for many leaders. For many, their reluctance to say or do something that will be painful causes them to avoid many of the most important interventions. To develop expert performance management practices we must accept pain as a constructive and even essential force.

Pain often provides the motivation to correct a bad habit - it insists upon being attended to. Sometimes it leads someone out of the wrong work and into right work, providing for lasting job satisfaction. Pain is so often part of the dynamic of meaningful change. I know it has been in my life. Indeed it is in every life. Because pain is a universal part of the human experience it stands to reason that it serves a purpose. And yet the reluctance to accept it as an inevitable consequence of a leader’s work causes too many leaders to choose avoidance over engagement. Surfacing and resolving the big questions about people and their work often entails some pain and yet it among a leader’s most important work.

When you become aware of a performance problem, the first step is always to provide corrective feedback - a simple 2-5 minute coaching conversation that describes the situation, the problems it’s giving rise to, and the change that is required. Caring and fair leaders voice their concerns as soon as they arise, they don’t delay. This minimizes damage and provides the best likelihood of a successful correction, but the pain problem often prevents leaders from holding even these initial conversations. The individual loses the opportunity to correct a problem early and the mission must accommodate a poor performer. As performance issues worsen so too does the deterrent effect pain can have on leaders.

When corrective feedback doesn’t bring the change that’s needed, consequences up to and including job loss should follow. Experience has taught me that pain has a tendency to intensify until it is resolved at the source. This is the way progressive discipline should work. Job loss is painful, often intensely so, this we know. At times it provides the motivation for someone to learn an important lesson and make a necessary change. Once again, a skillful leader must in all things treat people fairly. This means clear feedback with a clear warning about future consequences. When the feedback is not acted on, however there is the limit to a leader’s influence, we cannot force the change we would like to see in someone else. When leaders are unwilling to resolve these issues in a timely manner, they become accomplices to the problem.

Pain often motivates change because it forces us to address it at its source, nothing else brings relief. Good leaders never deliberately cause pain for others, however the best all come to accept it as a natural, even necessary by-product of their work. In doing so they serve well the missions and people they lead.

Discussion questions:

  1. When has pain played a purposeful role in your life?
  2. When was the last time fear of pain stopped you from taking steps you should have taken to resolve a performance issue? What were the consequences?

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
October 2016   |   By Dan Gaynor


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The Pain Problem, October 2016

The Big Question, September 2016

Risky Business, March 2016

Mentoring in the Moment, January 2016

Sacrificial Leadership, December 2015

5 Tactics For Better Meetings, November 2015

Leader as Follower, October 2015

Dynamic Balance, September 2015

Fearless Humility, August 2015

Fear and Accountability, July 2015

Building a Feedback Culture, June 2015

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Confront or Avoid?, Apr. 2015

The Heart of Accountability, Mar. 2015

Powerful Ambition, Feb. 2015

Inspiring Possibilities, Jan. 2015

Ralphie and the Strategic Approach, Dec. 2014

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