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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Sep 4, 2020


People will bring complaints about colleagues to you as their leader. How do you figure out if an issue is worth tackling? There is a simple question that can help. 



Hello and welcome to episode 93 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we explore how to figure out if a potential issue between staff is worth tackling. This week’s podcast is going to be even shorter than usual, but I can assure you it will save you countless hours.

I’m sure you’ve had this experience as a leader before - if you haven’t, it’s only a matter of time before you do. Someone in your team, let’s call them Jan, comes to you to discuss an “issue” they’re having with a colleague - let’s call the colleague Steve. Jan wants you to do something about this problem with Steve. Maybe Jan thinks Steve is talking too loudly on the phone, or heating something obnoxious in the microwave for lunch, or there’s some kind of vague personality clash about Steve smiling too much, or Jan just thinks Steve isn’t pulling his weight. You ask Jan whether she has discussed the issue with Steve directly. “No”. You then ask Jan whether she would be comfortable to have that conversation with Steve directly. “No”. And now we’re stuck.

What is our role as leader at this point? The general principle is simple - we should encourage the person with the issue to talk directly to the person they are having an issue with. But what if they don’t feel comfortable doing that, and still want you to do something about the perceived problem. And what if the perceived problem sits right on the fence. It can be challenging to know when to intervene and when to just let things slide. 

There is a question to ask at this point that can save everyone a lot of time and confusion. It’s simply this - “What’s the business issue?”

Steve’s loud talking on the phone might be distracting and frustrating other people. The business issue is lost productivity and engagement. That’s worth tackling directly.

Steve’s smelly microwaved lunch is wafting into the reception area, and several clients have complained about the smell. The business issue is the impact on our reputation with clients. That’s worth tackling.

Steve is smiling too much. Well, I’m struggling to find the business issue there. It’s not worth tackling.

Jan thinks Steve isn’t pulling his weight, but you have the results to suggest that he is. Again, there’s no business issue there.

Using the business issue test with the individual raising the complaint can be really helpful. That will help Jan to work out what things are worth her worrying about versus those things worth letting slide.

I’ve found the business issue test really helpful in highlighting what are real problems worth tackling, and what are interpersonal issues that might need to be navigated in a different way.

Well I hope you found that helpful. I received a couple of really encouraging emails from listeners to the podcast this week. You can always get in contact via the Leadership.Today website (he says, clearly fishing for a few more). And, if you do have time, a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you’re listening to this makes a huge difference. 

Just a quick reminder about our online workshops and webinars. Go to the Live page on our website to find out more about the seven different workshops we offer, and also to register for an upcoming free monthly webinar. I would love to have you along.

Have a great week.