I’ve had a string of conversations recently with supervisors related to troubling staff. Few things seem as frustrating as working with underfunctioning or incompetent staff persons. Ironically, the overwhelming feeling by supervisors is one of powerlessness in the face of ineptitude. Other common dilemmas that get supervisors stuck are: the trap of needing to be liked, wanting to be seen as “fair” and “understanding,” and the fear of making a tough decision that will affect another’s life.
Let’s face it, there’s no easy way to handling a difficult staff situation. And if you are the leader, handling tough problems and making hard decisions just comes with the job. When it comes to handling dysfunctional staff I have little advice to offer for dealing with internal emotional angst, insecurity, or self-doubt. But here’s some advice of a more pragmatic nature I’ve found helpful when dealing with troubling staff:
- Pray for them. It’ll help you get past your own anger.
- Pray for patience for yourself. Impatience, and the reactivity that follows its wake, is a sure sign you’ve taken the situation personally.
- Practice grace in trying to understand and accept the person despite their performance. I’ve found practicing Roger’s “unconditional positive regard” to be a great way to separate poor performance from personal worth. It is possible to preserve a staff person’s dignity while holding them accountable.
- Express appreciation when they do something right (publicly and privately). Some people seem to think that giving a compliment is equivalent to losing “chips.” People need to know when they’ve done a good job, as much as when they’ve done less than the best.
- Share your concerns honestly with the staff person. I’m always surprise that nine times out of ten, the answer to the question, “Have you talked with the staff person about your frustration?” is, “No.”
- Encourage them to grow professionally and personally. Those who take you up on this invitation in tangible ways are worth considering for a second chance. Those who do not are giving evidence that there’s likely little motivation on their part to contribute to the health of the organization through their own growth.
- Be clear about your expectations for a personal and professional working relationship
- Don’t take responsibility for their mistakes; give them freedom to fail (and learn). In other words, resist overfunctioning. Poor performance on their part is not necessarily a poor reflection on you. Again, don’t take it personally.
- Be frank with staff and supervising committees about actual and potential issues that threaten a professional working relationship
- Treat them professionally and courteously
- Do not speak ill of them in public, ever.
- If you supervise them, hold them accountable to clear expectations and written guidelines (document incidents and performance related conversations)
- Every once in a while ask yourself, “How am I contributing to this problem?”
- If you supervise them give yourself permission to let them go if it is within your authority; do not delay the process if the staff member shows no sign of being willing to change. Every time I’ve had to let go of someone, they’ve thanked me. One person went so far as to say, “What took you so long?”
Date posted: Thursday, August 28th, 2008 12:05 am | Under category: administration, bowen family systems theory, congregational life, leadership, personal growth, second chair
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