One of your team members dropped the ball and an important deliverable hasn’t been met. You thought he had it covered but he didn’t. And this hurts, making you and him look bad. The fact is he didn’t have his ducks in a row. It is clearly his fault the deadline was missed. This is an external truth – visible and undeniable.

Was the problem caused because he chose to put other things in front of this?  Was he covering his a_ _ and trying not to look bad? Any story you attribute to why something happened is no longer an external truth, it is an internal opinion.

Internal opinions that are viewed as external truths almost always lead to trouble. Many leaders do not know how to draw the line between the two. You know when it happens to you.  Usually, you get mad and your emotions start to take over. This is when a leader can fall into the trap of labeling internal opinions as fact or truth. At this point, the leader has crossed over a dangerous line. Once a leader begins to believe that he knows the reasons behind the facts, and creates his own stories about an individual’s behavior, he is no longer able to remain open minded and his effectiveness greatly erodes.

In the end, we wish to correct the underlying behavior so it doesn’t happen again. This requires a frank and open conversation with your team member. That conversation can be a caring, objective probe into what happened; or it can be an emotional discussion where accusations and judgments are made. If it becomes the latter, the person shuts down and the conversation can no longer move toward your goal.

Consider that even if you truly believe you know the reason for someone else’s behavior, you may not. A leader has to question his own thoughts and recognize when he is translating his opinion into fact. It happens fast, and it happens to all of us. When faced with these thoughts, a leader must pause and say, “Maybe there is some other reason for this behavior I am not aware of.” I find it a fun exercise to try and imagine all the possible reasons a person has behaved in an adverse way. This mindset allows you to remain objective and stick to the external facts. Asking for a recount of the facts in a caring and understanding manner is the basis for getting you to your goal. Start by asking, “What happened, and how can we prevent this from happening again.”


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