By Josh Allan Dykstra, CEO of Helios

“I don’t think he’s going to last here much longer.”

“She needs so much hand-holding to just do her job!”

“Why is it so difficult to get what we need from [that person]?”

How many times have you heard questions like these in your workplace? How many times have you said something like this yourself?

Once we find ourselves in any kind of leadership role in an organization, statements like these can fall from our lips fairly frequently, probably more often than we’d like. After all, assessing the performance of others is a core part of our leadership role now, right?

Well, kind of.

Certainly, leaders ought to be vigilant about performance. We are leading the organization, presumably toward more success, so these things matter. But for the most part, I believe we look at performance in the wrong way.

Our tendency is to look at the performance of others -- specifically, the performance of those who are on our team that we have responsibility for -- in a “parent-child” kind of way, it often feels. We are the parent, they are the child, and it’s our job to make sure they stay in line and do what they need to do. 

But most of us don’t work with children. We work with adults.

Now, before you joke -- “I wish I worked with adults! Ha!”-- know that we’re entering self-fulfilling prophecy territory here. We've known for quite a long time that people generally elevate or descend based on our expectations of them. If we expect people to be dumb, they get dumber. If we treat people as intelligent, they get smarter. 

This is why the traditional parent-child model at work is flawed from the outset. With this approach, we are framing performance as a deficit, where if a person simply tried harder, payed more attention, etc. they would be “better.” As is, they are flawed, incomplete and lacking something that needs to be acquired somewhere else.

This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because most often, the person learns to compensate for their perceived deficit through a host of tricks, hiding, playing “CYA” and, often most frustrating, looking to you, the manager/leader, to “complete” them.

If you are in a leadership role, how often do people come to you with problems to fix? How many times a day do you think, “They really could’ve figured out the answer to this question themselves.” How often do you wish someone on your team would’ve just taken action and come back to you with how they moved forward and what they learned from it?

Sorry to break the news, but those problems aren't on them. They’re on you.

You, as the team leader, create the “container” for everyday work for everyone on your team. What’s in-bounds, what’s out-of-bounds. What’s expected and what gets ignored. What’s tolerated and, perhaps more importantly, what’s not. 

We don’t get to treat adults like children and then expect them to act like adults. People elevate or descend based on our expectations of them. 

So, the next time you start hearing yourself talk about “that person” and how they “might not last,” take a good look at the container you’ve built. You can start by asking yourself three questions:

  1. Are expectations not only clear (in my mind), but I’ve actually had an open-minded conversation about them with the person?
  2. Have I been intentional and relentless to align what energizes that person with the work they’re doing?
  3. Are vital behaviors written down and celebrated -- and modeled by me?

Strange as it may seem, when looking at someone else’s performance, the first place for a leader to look is in the mirror. 

One more thing: If you can wholeheartedly answer “Yes” to the three questions above, move that person elsewhere as quickly as you possibly can.

Josh Allan Dykstra is a work revolutionary, TEDx speaker, author and CEO of Helios.

Published on: Oct 4, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.