4 Caring Ways to LEAD: Dealing with Performance Problems

 In Leadership, Leadership Development, management

LEAD is a two-way communication and problem-solving process. It is designed to find a mutual solution or action plan to an employee performance problem issue. LEAD means to listen, explore, attend, and define a solution. It works better for employees with some experience with a task or goal. Why? Because they have some success in the task. By getting them involved in solving the problem, you use their experience plus yours. You also continue their development to improve or solve the problem on their own in the future. You also increase their buy-in and commitment because they are involved in creating the solution.

Use the Review with LEAD method to uncover the specifics of employee performance issues or problems. Use it to clarify misunderstandings about the issue or the employee’s situation. It also helps to defuse emotions in “sticky” areas, resolve differences that may arise, handle concerns, and maintain open dialogue. Let us look at each part of the LEAD method in detail from your perspective in dealing with the problem. You listen, explore, and attend until there is mutual understanding and recognition of the problem or problems. Do this before you find or share a solution. Graphically, the LEAD model is represented below.

Listening begins LEAD

4 Caring Ways to LEAD: Dealing with Performance ProblemsLEAD begins with listening. Are you really employee centered when dealing with problems, or are you preoccupied with other concerns? Your goal is to focus on employee needs and objectives—not a quick resolution so you can go to another meeting.

1 Do you listen?

2 Do you make appropriate eye contact?

3 Do you use verbal cues? (“Yes, I see, okay.”)

4 Do you use non-verbal cues? (take notes, nod your head, positive body language)

5 Do you paraphrase or summarize your understanding of the issue? (“What I hear you saying is…?” “If I understand you correctly you mean…”)

Explore for information and options

Do you know and understand what the employee is trying to say? Use questions to better gain perspective from the customer’s point of view. For example:

1 Do you maintain your composure and stay professional?

2 Do you use open-ended questions to gain more information? (what, how, where, why)

3 Do you use close-ended questions to gain agreement or clo­sure? (yes or no)

4 Do you use directives to gain additional information? (“Tell me more about…” “Explain that again…” “Talk more about…”)

5 Do you paraphrase again for understanding? This is a key LEAD question and skill.

Lead requires genuine Attending

Is your attitude and behavior communicating that you care? Words—Constructive, conversational, and non-confrontational language equals 7 percent of your communication impact. Tone of voice—maintain a similar tone of voice as the employee equals 38 percent of your communication result. Physiology—ensure that your behavior and body language are congruent with a genuine desire to be of service equals 55 percent of your communication power. Your actions speak louder than your words.

1 Do you maintain your focus on the employee by holding on to your response until you have gained understanding?

2 Do you pay attention to the employee’s demeanor and emotions?

3 Do you ask more clarifying questions, if needed?


With LEAD you hold on solving the problem. So, notice that up to this point, you focus on understanding the issue, gaining employee input, and dealing with any emotional response. Before you respond and finalize a plan, you may have to listen, explore, and attend multiple times. It depends on the complexity of the problem and the depth of the employee’s emotional response. After this you define specific actions or solutions.

1 Do you summarize your understanding?

2 Do you specifically respond and give feedback?

3 Do you work with the employee to outline possible alternative solutions?

4 Do you close for agreement on the issue, next steps, or for the business?

4 Caring Ways to LEAD: Dealing with Performance Problems

The LEAD method provides balance among asking for input, listening effectively to employee ideas, and responding and creating solutions to the issue. Furthermore, it allows for your employee and you to “unpack” emotional responses constructively.

In addition, the LEAD model ensures a focused response that is more likely to reveal and address the employee’s true problem. Notice that the process is iterative. It requires repetitive attention to LEAD model. This helps ensure precise identification of the employee’s concerns before an attempt is made to define the solution. Likewise, with this process you not only can solve problems effectively, but you end up inspiring the person because you communicate with care. As a result, this leads to higher performance, better productivity, and increased employee engagement.

Also, do you want to accelerate your leadership and LEAD skills? See this complimentary guide: How to Motivate-No-Inspire People.

Finally, do you want a proven game-plan for career success? If so, check out Rick’s Superstar Leadership eBook:


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Showing 2 comments
  • Pauline Makenzi

    Great article.Well put points.I know following these points will improve performance but 100%. Thanks for sharing

    • Rick Conlow

      Hi Pauline:
      I appreciate your comments. Check out our complimentary Excellence in Management training. I am on a mission to help any manager that wants a breakthrough in his or her career. Take care.

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