A Big Question and Frequent Mistake for Frustrated Leaders

I’ve always loved the coaching flowchart from “Coaching for Improved Work Performance.”

Fournies, F. F. (1999). Coaching For Improved Work Performance (3rd ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.

When someone you lead has a performance issue, this flowchart will help you pinpoint the problem.

But if you want a question to get closer to the truth more quickly, here’s a deceptively simple one:

Is this a willingness gap or a knowledge gap?

A knowledge gap usually takes two forms:

  • They don’t actually know WHAT they’ve been asked to do.
  • They don’t know exactly HOW to do what they’ve been asked to do.

If they don’t know WHAT, it’s time for a BSaASWYW. Be extremely specific in asking for what you want.

If they don’t know HOW, coach them or find a resource to help them.

Now, if it’s a willingness gap, that’s trickier.

They need motivation. They may need to understand the “why” or the reason it’s a priority. Another possibility is they need to understand why THEY got asked. Or, perhaps, they’re disengaged for another reason. Regardless, providing empathy, curiosity, and commitment to effectiveness is your job.

Unfortunately, here’s what often happens:

Leaders assume they’ve been clear, and those you lead are reluctant to admit they don’t understand the assignment.

Because of this combination of reasons, knowledge gaps often look like willingness gaps.

When leaders make this frequent mistake, here’s what happens:

Leaders assume a “bad attitude” or lack of willingness on the part of those they lead, and they try too hard to motivate, guilt, add consequences, get mad, or assume the worst about the mindset of the person who isn’t performing.

This leads to misunderstandings, confusion, and even lower motivation.

What if…

When you’re not 100% sure, you assume a knowledge gap instead? Knowledge gaps are quicker to solve because you simply have to get specific and/or get a little help to the low performer.

Worst case scenario? You’ve sharpened your own skills on coaching your people, and you’ve narrowed the issue down.

Most likely scenario? The work gets done, everyone learns more, and there’s less confusion and stress.

Thanks for reading,

Alan Feirer

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