How Great Leaders Manage Under-Performance


We’ve all been there.

Maybe at school. Maybe at work. Maybe at home.

We’ve not been on the ball lately and we know it. In fact, it’s plain to see. Our performance level has dropped and all of a sudden the pressure is on. We’re just waiting for our teachers, boss or parents to call us in for the “chat”.

We know our performance isn’t up to scratch so should be a relatively transparent conversation right? We’ll explain where we’re struggling and our caring mentors will give us as much support and advice to get us back on the right track? Sounds simple?

If only.

In ten years as a recruiter, I can say with confidence that performance reviews are perhaps one of the most sensitive and resented activities in the work-place. In most cases, it even triggers long term disagreement or even a permanent breakdown.

And understandably so. With the stakes so high and so much emotional and sentimental attachment, it can be easy for both sides to get defensive or stressed.

But great leaders are different. Not only do they know how to manage under-performance, they use it as an opportunity to strengthen relationships with followers even further.

Here are some ways how great leaders manage under-performance.






They don’t wait for “the chat”

Performance at any level – whether good or bad – is rarely due to something that happens overnight.

When things aren’t going in the right direction, the signs are usually visible well in advance. In my experience, leaders skilled in a particular industry, profession or company can actually even accurately predict how a person will perform in the future based on current activity levels or monitoring their tasks.

It’s therefore almost mind-boggling that many managers commonly “give it a few more months” before they decide to confront others and discuss performance.

Great leaders act now. When they see an area that might need improvement they make suggestions that their followers can practically apply.

They realise that it’s easier to improve step-by-step rather than discuss everything in one meeting. Rather than build up high pressure conversations when it is too late, they make progress consistently.

Great leaders act early.






They take personal responsibility themselves

Great leaders protect their followers. When a follower is under-performing, the lea
der should presume as if he or she is underperforming.

Since a leader usually gains the recognition for excellent performance, it’s only fair and reasonable that they take responsibility when things are going wrong.

Great leaders understand that the worst thing they can do in a situation involving under-performance is to come across as threatening. That will only foster defensiveness and resentment.

Rather than just focussing on a follower’s performance, they start with their own. They express their regret and accountability in things not working out and ask for suggestions and feedback on their contribution as a leader.

This creates a platform for a much more collaborative and effective solution.

Great leaders take responsibility.







They build and help execute plans

Most performance reviews and discussions usually end with a common course of action.


Or put more accurately, targets dependent on strict deadlines. And usually even stricter consequences.

The problem is, although targets can be useful in any performance related environment, they are rarely the solution to a problem. After all, most people who are under-performing know that they are not hitting the levels expected of them, so isn’t it unlikely that simply re-enforcing performance levels is going to make much difference?

During times of adversity, what all followers want is guidance.

A helping hand to get back on track.

Great leaders don’t manage under-performance with numbers. They roll their sleeves up and get stuck in. They go deep with followers to analyse the situation in detail before helping to formulate powerful plans and put them into action.

Great leaders don’t just demand performance.

They work together to create it.









All of us underperform at some stage.

But how others respond can have a big impact on what happens next.

Hiring managers can gain much from understanding and improving the performance of others in an effective and co-operative way.

To foster co-operation rather than resentment.

How does your boss deal with under-performance?

Like this post? Read more here:

  • Why great leaders try to give before they get
  • Why great leaders learn to pause
  • Why great people greet people they don’t know

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