Gut Check - For Leadership
How many managers or leaders have you met in your life that are complacent with mediocrity in their performance and the impact they have on others? I would like to share a simple tool that if employed effectively will immediately separate your own leadership abilities beyond the masses of mediocrity, and into leadership that brings about change. We’re talking compelling leadership, but also leadership that is by no means easy. Just as all those mediocre leaders know, it is much more comfortable to simply avoid leadership and take the easy path.
I call this leadership skill the ‘Gut Check’ and it is very effective everyday leadership skill that I have found very effective in my career. Employing this skill is one of the key ways that individuals can improve performance in leadership & management while simultaneously reducing ones stress level. Employing this skill is NEVER easy, however you can adapt yourself to respond and react without fear to this method. This is accomplished through the discipline of immediately taking action every time there is an opportunity to practice this method.
While this article is written with a management or performance management backdrop it can be employed from a leadership perspective regardless of your role at work and in your personal life quite readily. In fact I will touch upon this method again in a future discussion related to athletic performance.
So what exactly is this ‘Gut Check’ method? The method is simply conditioning yourself to recognize every time there is an opportunity for conversation that will address uncomfortable issues but will either propel the target person, yourself, or the desired results to the next level. Before jumping into an explanation of how to practice and utilize this skill I would like to tell a story that articulates the impact that can be had as a leader implementing this method. This unique situation has arisen twice in my career, but I will just tell one version as that is all that’s needed.
Through the years it hasn’t been uncommon for people to follow me from one job to the next, however this situation is a bit different. I had an ex-employee spend six months calling me and emailing me trying to convince me to hire him at my new company. You might think that he must have been desperate for a job or that I’m going to tell you I was some sort of inspirational leader or had treated him very well. None of this is true, in fact I was in the process of trying to fire him when we last parted ways. He had been an employee that to some extent was a ‘cancer’ in regards to morale due to his negative attitude. If you had tools in place to measure his performance he would do just what was expected and nothing more, and if you were not measuring he would do the absolute minimum. For this reason I had written him up, given him unsatisfactory performance reviews, and had multiple conversations with him basically stating “Personally I think you should quit your job, you’re clearly unhappy.” These conversations were certainly something that could have been avoided as he could have been scheduled in an area affecting very few people and been counted on to get at least the bare minimum accomplished.
So why was he calling ME asking for a job, especially since he already had a good paying job? His answer was “I have something to prove to you, and I want you to know you changed my life.” What had already started happening when we had last parted ways was introspection on his part. These very pointed and challenging conversations had kickstarted this process of introspection. When he called me up requesting to work for me he explained that in the 25 years he had worked at that company he had never been written up, had a negative comment on a review, or even told he was not performing at expected levels. Not a single person had ever called him on his behaviors and performance.
Since we had parted ways he explained that he had come to realize I was right. Over the years he had become dissatisfied with his work to such a level that he had become a negative person throughout his life, from his personal and professional life, to his health. He had since left his employment at that job and made changes across his entire life including improving his relationship with his wife and kids. In fact, he had even started a fitness program revitalizing his life, having transformed himself from being overweight to being a lean and active individual. Leaving that job was one of the best decisions he ever made and he could not believe the person he had been prior to that, a person he did not like.
What he wanted was a chance to prove that he could put his best forth at a job in regards to performance, behavior, and attitude. He didn’t care if it didn’t work out, but he wanted a chance to prove it.
After six months of expressing my reservations openly with him I finally decided to give him a shot. Having these open and honest conversations about my reservations was another example of the ‘gut check’ instead of just responding with “sorry we are not hiring” to take the easy way out. Upon hiring him I was amazed at the changes that had occurred since we had parted ways. He was a new man in performance, attitude, and appearance. Across the board he was a different, happier person, motivated internally to see what he could accomplish. He no longer saw a successful day as a day he worked the absolute minimum. This was also clearly evident in his workout regimen and the impact it had on his body.
So how does this relate to the ‘gut check’ method and being a better leader? The ‘gut check’ is a pretty simple concept to understand but is often not the easiest to implement. The method can be broken down into three simple steps.
- Identifying when to take action
- Releasing fear about taking action
- Taking action without emotion
The action is simply addressing difficult issues. We’re talking about those difficult conversations that you always want to postpone until tomorrow, maybe next week; well maybe it’s better if we sugar coat the topic, or better yet avoid it altogether. Those conversations that you know you need to have but every time you think about it you get a twisting feeling in your stomach. That knot in the bottom of your stomach starts to form every time you start thinking that you might actually have to talk to this person about it. In fact, these are the conversations that most people never have. Just like in the story I laid out people had avoided that conversation for possibly 25 years. This is the ‘gut check’, that feeling is how you identify there is action you MUST take and you must take it right NOW.
That feeling in your gut is often fear, and the best way to release this fear is to simply change your outlook. What I recommend doing is not focusing on the all those emotions that come with the twisting feeling inside but simply thinking of every instance as an opportunity to express or practice your leadership. Yes, that might sound a little too new age or self-affirmation based for some of you but it works and it is reality. With practice you can begin recognizing the ‘gut check’ even sooner. You will find that taking action immediately in response to the ‘gut check’ will in actuality reduce the total level of stress in your life.
It is important that in recognizing the ‘gut check’ you’re not responding to anger or other emotions. The ‘gut check’ is something that comes into play by producing this feeling that makes you want to avoid or put off a conversation. These ARE NOT venting conversations, or conversations to make us feel better. These are conversations with specific goals that can’t be sugar coated, and address the underlying issues that people often never broach. They are often comfortable for neither party, and many times require addressing personal faults of your own or hearing things you would rather not hear.
Once you have recognized the ‘gut check’ and determined the actions to be taken, you must do so with no emotion. This is an art in itself and a whole other topic but I will provide some quick pointers.
- Create goals prior to the meeting for what you wish to accomplish out of the meeting
- Address behaviors and not people
- Listen and acknowledge the other party
- Be positive but address the hard facts
- Must end with Commitment from the other party and yourself to any required actions
The ‘gut check’ is never easy but it does achieve results. In addition to delivery results in performance, it is a challenging skill that requires leadership that most people simply don’t have ability to pull themselves out of mediocrity to achieve. Leadership is oftentimes an unrewarding activity as being a leader puts you out in front of the masses to have your actions criticized. The story above, as does a nearly identical instance with another ex-employee, re-affirms my conviction to be a better leader despite the fact that it is never the easy way out. The individual in the story ended up working for me again for several years consistently demonstrating a permanent change in self and an asset, not a deficit in the work environment.
Even if you don’t believe bringing about this type of positive change in another person makes this method useful in itself. It still has value as a personal development tool for leadership. Every time you put yourself into that position of responding with action to a ‘gut check’ you will find it’s an opportunity for personal growth as a leader. Don’t let these opportunities pass you by!
The Gut Check – Your Queue To Action!!!
(un-delayed & without emotion)