There is one untended duty, one failure to act, that I have seen cause more loss, more devastation, more embarrassment, and more weakening of teams than any other. I’m going to tell you what it is and then challenge you to fix it.
That one oft-repeated failure on the part of leaders is this: failure to confront.
I can best illustrate this ever-present problem by describing a situation you’ve certainly experienced before. Like you, I’ve been on many teams—sports teams or music teams or aid teams working abroad. Occasionally, someone just smells. They either don’t wear any deodorant or they don’t wear a strong enough brand. Whatever. In short, they stink. And no one says anything. Eventually, some member of the team has had enough. They go and talk to the leader demanding a fix.
What usually happens? You’ve seen it before. The leader will pull everyone together and say something like, “You know, folks, we all need to be considerate of each other. Be polite, give each other privacy, wear deodorant, be on time, etc. Thank you for helping us out.”
You know how it goes. The folks who don’t stink start checking their armpits. Yet it never occurs to the guy (it’s almost always a guy) who does stink that he has a problem. So, nothing changes.
When does change happen? It occurs when someone finally goes to old Joe and says, “My friend, we are eager for you to be a success here. Part of that commitment is to help you with anything keeping you from being your most effective. So in that spirit, let me talk to you about your body odor.” In almost every case, the situation changes immediately. There may be some embarrassment for a few moments, but it passes, as does the stink. Problem solved. Why? Because someone had the courage to confront. Remember those words. The Courage to Confront.
Winston Churchill once said, “Things do not get better by being left alone. Unless they are adjusted, they explode with a shattering detonation.” Well, one of the keys to adjusting people problems is confronting—lovingly, firmly, fully, and specifically. You will not only fix problems but inspire loyalty. Just think for a moment how you feel about everyone who has ever confronted you with noble intent. You likely hold them in high esteem and are grateful for their courage to this day.
Take a moment and think about the factors that might be keeping you from necessary confrontations. Is it insecurity? Preoccupation with being liked? Fear of hurting another person? Uncertainty of your role? Take an internal inventory. Then do two things: Confront those you need to confront. Also, welcome redemptive confrontation in your own life. You will be better for it and so will those you lead.