Coaching Session 27

Today’s session is 15:19 minutes long.

willingnessThere’s just one ingredient necessary for somebody to excel as a member of your team. It’s quite literally the key to success.

Being willing makes you able.”

Yep, it’s willingness.

Willingness is defined as the quality or state of being prepared to do something; readiness. Here are a few synonyms: readiness, inclination, will, wish, desire and alacrity.

Sometimes people may argue that it’s not willingness. They may put forth that talent, skill or ability mean more.


Take the most talented person in the world at whatever job reports to you. Now remove the willingness to do what you need done, when you need it done, and in the way you need it done. Now how’s that talent working out for you?

Sometimes people argue that reliability is the biggest factor. Success hinges on being reliable they say.

Okay, take the person who reports to work on time or early every day of their life. You can rely on them to do exactly what you say. What could be wrong with that? Well, nothing really…except their dependability may not include a sense of urgency. Maybe they’ll do what you ask them to do, but no more. And if you don’t tell them what to do, they do nothing.

Search all you want and you’ll never find a quality that trumps being prepared to do something, readiness or willingness. It’s the stuff you need throughout your organization.

Non-Negotiable Standards

What are the things that would cost people their jobs with your organization?

Sure, there are those obvious ones: convicted of a felony, drug use, theft, violence in the workplace and a few others. But let’s get beyond those. What else?

Work cultures vary. Some organizations rarely if ever terminate employees. They suffer fools as long as the fools can fog a mirror. Other companies like the move fools around. They get rid of them in one department, ship them to another one and eventually everybody gets their turn in the barrel with the incompetent morons in the organizations. Still others, bark, but never bite. They chastise the poor performer, but it never escalates to anything more severe. And maybe my favorite passive aggressive tactic, some companies purposefully try to make life so difficult they hope the ne’er do weller quits. These are all coward tactics. Great leaders refuse to work like this.

Instead, great leaders establish and communicate clear non-negotiable standards. These are standards that must be met no matter what. Failure to meet these standards will result in corrective discipline…maybe even termination if it’s not corrected after multiple opportunities.

Do you have any of these? Do your people know them and understand them?

Non-negotiable standards require consequences, positive and negative.

You’ve got to celebrate when people meet or exceed the standards. It could be a simple recognition of a job well done to something bigger and more public. The word I want you to focus on is ACKNOWLEDGEMENT. You have to let people know you saw them meet or exceed the standard.

If you’re a parent of a little boy, or if you ever were, you understand. And maybe you understand if you ever had any little boys in your family.

“Hey, look at me!”

“Hey, watch me do this.”

“Mom, did you see me do that?”

“Hey dad, did you see me?”

Even little girls can do it, but boys sure seem to be hardcore chasers of praise. It’s because we all have an innate need to be acknowledged. We need to know that we matter…that we make a positive difference.

You don’t need to read a bunch of research material that proves people do what gets rewarded. We instinctively know that. When my grandsons are performing feats of acrobatic prowess in our backyard pool and they’ve got even an audience of one, they’re going to keep going as long as people are paying attention to them. In fact, they’ll even try new stuff with confidence. Things they might never attempt if nobody was looking. And they can pretty shy. Explain that!

Well, I can explain it. Affirmation or acknowledgement fuels them. It’s like gasoline on a burning fire. They’ll just keeping going until one of us (it’s usually us) gets too tired to keep it up. We either stop paying attention or they get physically too tired to perform. It’s usually the former.

That’s what happens in the workplace, too. Leaders may start out acknowledging good work (defined here as meeting or exceeding the standards). Over time, the leader gets bored, weary or busy and stops acknowledging. Performance begins to slowly slip. It’s like spending a weekend writing that report the boss needs by Monday morning and you never heard another word about it. Did they read it? Did they like it? You’ll never know. It’s disheartening.

Consequences for failing to meet the standard are equally valuable and necessary. It’s holding people accountable for the work, which is good for the organization and the people.

Suppose you lead a group of people and one team member is not performing as well as you expect. Rather than confront the situation, you lay back. You’re going to see how things play out. Performance continues to erode. Maybe only slightly. Maybe a lot.


a) How are you serving the individual with poor performance? How are you making them better, improving their career or doing those things that will help them grow?

b) How are you serving the team? How is tolerating poor performance helping those team members who are doing what they should?

c) How are you serving your organization? Is it fair to the organization that one team member isn’t contributing what’s expected?

Such a scenario just proves that non-negotiable standards are sometimes negotiable. Leaders will sometimes make excuses for failing to confront poor performance with a negative consequence because it’s confrontational and uncomfortable. Lots of leaders avoid doling out negative consequences because of how it makes them feel, not because of how it might make the subject (the poor performing team member) feel.

Small children that go uncorrected grow up to be hellions. Shoot, we hate being around them when they’re children. When they become adults, we’re afraid of them. All because no adults in their life held them accountable and corrected them when they needed it the most. An undisciplined child will grow up rebellious, hateful and inconsiderate. But you think your uncorrected team member is going to have no negative impact on your group, or your company? WRONG.

Establishing and communicating non-negotiable standards help your employees know what is expected. It prevents that subjective methodology of feedback: “I think you’re going a good job.” It lets employees know they’re doing a good job, or not. It puts the burden on them to demonstrate a high degree of willingness.

So let’s bring it back around to that topic, willingness.

You must sit down with your HR department (if you’ve got one; and if you don’t then you need to make sure you’re following all the laws and guidelines necessary to protect yourself legally). Make sure you understand the disciplinary process. Use that process fairly. Diligently.

Corrective discipline should first focus on CORRECTING the behavior, not trying to build a case against or get rid of an employee. Somebody in the organization, maybe even YOU, hired this person. Somebody somewhere saw something worthwhile. Don’t abandon that right off the bat.

Coach willingness. The employee being corrected will have demonstrated they know how to do the work, and they’re capable of doing it — because they’ve done it in the past. If you are attempting to exert corrective discipline on an employee that has never demonstrated an ability to perform or meet your non-negotiable standards, then you need to look in the mirror. Train them. Make sure they know how to do the job. Make them demonstrate their ability to do the job.

Once that happens…the only factor to prevent them meeting or exceeding the standard is WILLINGNESS (or lack of).

The corrective discipline – whether it’s casual or formal – must be designed to help them regain their willingness to do the work up the standards you demand. It doesn’t always have to be some formal “write up.” It might be a sit down in your office where you express concern over the quality of work lately.

The two points you have to consider are: 1) the performance has to be confronted head on and 2) their lack of willingness has to be pointed out (based on their past performance which has demonstrated they can do the work).

This is no time to be wishy washy. You’ve got to spell it out. Too often I’ve heard from employees who emerge from such a meeting with the leader and they are confused. They’re not sure what he was getting at. I talk with the leader, and we drill down what was said, and how. Sure enough, the leader was ambiguous and vague, hoping the employee would connect the dots. No, this isn’t the time to hope the employee will connect the dots. YOU must connect the dots for them. You must make sure they clearly understand the severity of the problem and the time limit you’re giving them to correct the performance. Remember, this is for their good as well as everybody else on your team.

Sadly, sometimes there comes a time when enough time has passed and it’s evident that the one ingredient necessary is missing. The employee is simply not willing to meet the non-negotiable standards. Now, you’re faced with the task of negotiating the standards or enforcing them. It’s not often wise or smart to negotiate the standards. It’s always wise and smart to jettison the unwilling employee. Teams and organizations can’t thrive with employees who aren’t prepared, ready or willing to do the work to the standards you set.

Reward willingness and you’ll see it increase. Correct a lack of it and you’ll cure it.

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