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Now I'm the Bad Guy...

Earlier this week I spoke to a principal who was preparing to have a challenging conversation with one of her team members and she expressed that she “was now the bad guy.” Boy did this bring back memories! As I listened to her share her story about getting ready for a difficult non-renewal meeting with one of her employees, I was immediately reminded of my time as a principal when I had to sit down with team members and communicate performance and/or behavior concerns. It seemed that no matter how clear I thought I was with my communication, and no matter how many times I communicated the concerns, the moment I informed them that as a result of their performance or behavior issues they would not be asked to return the following year. I think the toughest thing about this was having this conversation as early as April and having these team members remain on campus until the end of the school year. I was left to deal with the ramifications of a disgruntled employee who spread his/her dissatisfaction with my decision with other team members (and sometime even parents). For me, it was probably one of the most challenging times as a school leader.

My dislike for conflict started many years ago, growing up in a family that didn’t handle disagreements very well. Many times, hurtful things were said, or people stopped speaking to each other. I’m sure like me, many of you dislike conflict and it could be one of the reasons we tend to avoid it. But as leaders, if we’re going to create a dynamic culture, we don’t have to like conflict, but we do have to plunge into it from time to time as a way to uphold the mission and values we all agreed to. By engaging in conflict in a constructive way, we are also modeling for our team members how to do the same. I’ve learned that conflict is not a negative thing but can a very rewarding experience for both parties when done in a positive way.

To deal with these situations in a more encouraging way, I had to learn to tell myself a different story about what was happening. Instead of viewing these moments as something I was taking away from someone, I started to look at it as giving the employee a new opportunity. You see, I no longer treated it as a termination which felt so final; it was actually an opportunity for these team members to walk into what they were meant to be doing, their purpose. I realized that just because this particular door was closing didn’t mean it was the end; it was in fact a new beginning.

You see, I believe that as long as we have breath in our bodies, there is something we are meant to do, so if you’re still walking around on this earth, you have great purpose.

I always keep this in mind when having a challenging conversation or letting someone go.

As a leader we should not ignore behavior or performance, but instead ensure we are giving the right guidance which will allow people to be reflective of their performance and/or behavior as these challenges can point them to their purpose. When we hold on to people with performance or behavior issues only because we feel sorry for them or because we don’t want to be the bad guy, we are not allowing that person to find their true purpose.

My husband, Kermit Spears, says that “we (leaders) are the guardians of the mission. “

This does not mean we are inconsiderate or insensitive to the needs of our team members. This simply suggests that we need to ensure that team members’ behaviors are aligned to our agreed upon values and expectations. This also signifies that when team members’ behaviors are not aligned, it is our responsibility to lovingly correct the behavior and make sure they get back on track. If they can’t uphold these agreements or decide to continue to practice behaviors that conflict with team values (mission), then we must kindly let them go.

Today learn to be a good bad guy, see yourself as a courageous person who provides others with information that will lead them to their purpose.

So, the next time you’re having that challenging conversation, always look at the person sitting across from you as a human being with great purpose. Although they may not be a good fit for your organization, there is something out there they’re supposed to be doing. Don’t use this meeting as a coaching or mentoring session, instead simply give the employee the information and allow him to take it and use it as he sees fit. He may not appreciate the information you provide right away; it may take months or sometimes years, but eventually they will see that this may have been the best thing that ever happened to them. With time, they will no longer see you as the bad guy, but as the person who helped them discover their true path.

Want to learn more about the challenges facing education? Join me for my webinar The Truth Doesn't Have to Hurt on March 18th at 6:00 pm CST. Register in advance for by clicking here:

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