How to Avoid Owning Employee Failure through Discovery


Leaders are a prime target for employee disappointment and failure. Learning to maneuver through conflict and hard times by letting employees own their problems can prevent many issues down the road.

When employees are late to work, fail to complete assignments on time, or any other work related impact, how do you resolve this? Poor leadership is the first scapegoat when employee failure rises to the top, and although it’s definitely a possibility, it isn’t always the case.

Approaching an employee and telling them you are disappointed, or that they are going to lose their job lets the employee remove all feelings of guilt and ownership, and puts it on you. Lack of results from an employee can often mean many things like: personal/home issues, leadership and peer conflict, lack of challenge, lack of understanding etc.

My recommendation: invite the employee to express openly what is causing their lack of performance. Ask them, not tell them what they think the impacts are to the business. Gain a commitment from the employee to resolve the issue, and help discover a solution going forward.

When we feel like we have helped make a decision with our leaders, we feel supported. Allowing understanding through self-discovery prevents employees blaming and deflecting their lack of effort on to the leader. All this being said, the leader can and will often have an impact on the lack of performance, but allowing the employee to discuss these hurdles openly will again, support self-discovery.

Try to avoid making judgments and comments before you have a discovery with the employee. When you confront issues promptly rather than waiting for the problem to evolve, you can often prevent a disaster. Work closely with your teams and allow them to understand what impacts they have on the business. Once you gain commitment- continue to monitor and develop daily!

-Michael Dooley

6 thoughts on “How to Avoid Owning Employee Failure through Discovery

    • It can be frustrating at times- true. I appreciate your post and I will follow up with a new one tomorrow around making quality decisions “hiring leaders”. Sound okay? 🙂

      Thanks for the inspiration!

  1. Because leaders have so many responsibilities today, it’s even more important to establish sound policies and boundaries with subordinates. Taking on problems that are not yours is the fastest way to fall into overload, where you reduce your own effectiveness. Great advice!

  2. Love this point: ” invite the employee to express openly what is causing their lack of performance. Ask them, not tell them what they think the impacts are to the business.” Too often leaders THINK they know what’s going on and aren’t open to hearing their team-mates out first! Also, this is a humble leadership style which goes miles in terms of winning trust from your team. Thanks, I enjoyed the read!

    • Thank you so much for your comment. I think you have a lot of great points about leaders not listening to their team members. How often can you tell someone is ready to respond before you are even finished? It can be ultimately frustrating!

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