Posted by: chrismaser | May 12, 2010


Excellent performance can produce excellent results, which can lead to strong participation. But here a major point to remember is that listeners, as individuals, may not understand their own feelings, let alone the feelings of others in a group. It’s thus important for the leader to help the group understand that it is human nature to achieve, to build, and to want success.

The secret to success is the willingness to do the things that people who consider themselves failures do not like to do. Success is greatly aided by enthusiasm. The person with enthusiasm generally prevails to the end, whereas the person who lacks enthusiasm is easily discouraged. Generating enthusiasm can eliminate negative attitudes. With this in mind, a meeting that is well organized and flows easily provides a meaningful, if not enjoyable, time for all and is impressive to visitors who join in future activities.

Behind all of this, as one soon learns, is the hard work of a few people dedicated to the proposition of a shared vision of sustainable community. A large part of the success of these endeavors is the insistence among those few that they all share in the work. Clear guidelines of acceptable conduct and firm enforcement of those standards will go a long way to ensure equal and meaningful experiences as people strive toward the creation of a shared vision for a sustainable community within the context of a sustainable landscape.

To foster the kind of participation and responsibility necessary to create a shared vision for a successful sustainable community, it is advisable to take seriously the installation of members into positions of leadership within a committee. Elevate the leaders into these positions of prominence and responsibility, and make sure all duties are clear and concise. Although this is especially important for first-time performers, seasoned leaders need reminders too, because negligence is often a matter of not knowing what to expect and what is expected.

If a problem develops, work to increase the person’s level of commitment, but first do your homework. People usually do not perform well for one of the following reasons:

1. Poor training: No one either told them or showed them how to do the work properly—and showing (which provides a concrete example) is a lot more effective than simply telling (which all too often is a poorly understood abstraction).

2. Inadequate equipment: They lack the proper materials or equipment.

3. Time: They lack the time necessary to work properly.

4. Motivation: They are not motivated to perform because they feel overworked and underappreciated or are unhappy with the job, co-workers, management, or some other aspect of their lives.

Your immediate task as leader is to determine which of the above reasons applies to the situation you are facing. Asking yourself the following questions may help you figure out which reason applies and thus what your next step it:

1. Does the person know what is supposed to be done and when? (If not, you will need to inform, preferably show, them what to do and how.)

2. What is the specific difference between the present level of performance and the desired level of performance? (The person must know what they are required to do to perform satisfactorily.)

3. Does the person even know their work is unsatisfactory? (If not, you must express your concern about the area of the job in which the person’s performance needs improvement.)

4. Does the person have the necessary skills to perform the job satisfactorily? (If not, they will require the appropriate training.)

5. Is the expected standard of performance realistic? (If it is not, no one may be able to meet the expectations of the job.)

6. What effect does poor performance have on others? (The person needs to know how others are affected by their performance.)

7. Does the person have the necessary resources to do the job? (If not, provide them.)

8. Are there obstacles affecting the person’s performance that are beyond their control? (If so, remove them.)

9. Does a person’s positive performance yield commensurate rewards? (If the person is performing well but receives an undesirable reward, such as twice as much work to do in the same amount of time, then their incentive to perform will likely decrease.)

10. Could the person do the job satisfactorily if they wanted to? (If not, there is little you can do.)

Once you have analyzed the situation and decided the person can perform satisfactorily if they really want to, you are ready to begin working with the person to improve their performance.

You might begin by praising work currently underway and encourage greater excellence through sensitivity to small contributions so they might grow into bigger ones. An example could be: “Jim is doing a fine job as committee chair to increase the participation of local government, despite his busy schedule. (Applause.) Once he gets his agenda better established, it should be easier to meet with government officials.”

At times, one must inquire subtly about work not being completed, but in a way that brings up the problem without criticizing. (No one needs criticism. We all need help.) Remember: Praise in public, discuss shortcomings in private. If necessary, have someone check with the delinquent leader before the meeting to see if the work is done. A sincere offer to help as a pretext for the call will avoid humiliation by: (1) keeping feedback related to behavior in a way that avoids judgments by describing rather than evaluating behavior; (2) using “I” statements, rather than “you” statements, to reduce defensiveness; and (3) speaking calmly with unemotional language, tone, and gestures.

If, however, work is still not being done, a more direct approach may be necessary. Call a meeting of the committee leaders prior to or just after the regular meeting, with the individual present. Discuss some normal business and insert a brief discussion about the person’s performance toward the end of the meeting—but neither first nor last on the agenda, lest it come across as the main purpose of the meeting.

Because the goal is to call attention to the problem and promote discussion, briefly cite two or three examples of work not being done and express concern for the project as a whole. Allow the person in question to explain their difficulties, and honor the explanation no matter what it is. Keep in mind that this is a sensitive situation because it’s difficult for people to admit they have not fulfilled their agreed-to duty.

Rather than initially asking the person to step down, offer help from a prearranged assistant, who may also be a replacement if the person resigns unexpectedly. One can also provide for an assistant to take over the duties on a temporary basis until the person can find more time. But be sure to get a firm commitment from the individual concerning their performance in the future.

If, after all of this, the work is still not getting done and the person is adamant about retaining their position, prepare for a replacement, but this must be the last resort. The person must be approached in private by the committee chair and one other officer. State the problem gently yet firmly and ask that a replacement be allowed to assume the duties, which will give the person an opportunity to voluntarily pass forward their duties while still retaining as much control as possible of their dignity.

If the person refuses to step down, express your concern for their feelings, but also express your concern for the feelings of the other members of the committee. It is now appropriate to again ask for the successor to take over, while encouraging the person to try again when their circumstances have improved, which continues to allow the person control of the decision and to retain dignity.

If the person insists on continuing, grant one final opportunity by allowing them a specific period within which to fulfill the stated duties of the position. If the position is important enough to the person to want to continue, a final chance may be in order, but make it clear that if conditions do not improve, replacement is inevitable.

At this point, the person is no longer in control. If they succeed, the immediate problem is solved; if not, the replacement takes over and the immediate problem is solved. If a replacement must take over, have the incumbent make a brief checklist to familiarize the new person with the duties and to allow private discussion.1

There is, however, another kind of performance that also relies on inspiration. It’s called creativity.

Series on Leadership Challenges:

Return to the First Set of Posts

• Avoiding Self-Deception

• Over-Investment In Followers

• The Value Of Humor

• Coping With Someone You Dislike

• Imagine Yourself As Different People

• Nurturing Creativity

• Making Do With What You Have

• Establishing Realistic Objectives

• The Need For Urgency

• Give Counsel, Not Advice

• The Questions We Ask

• Burnout

• Leadership Within Organizations


  1. The foregoing discussion is based on: (1) Wade Chabassol. Inspiring Officer Performance. The Toastmaster 62 (1996):13-14 and (2) Jean Marsh. Keep Your Eyes & Ears Open and Your Pen Ready! The Toastmaster 63 (1997):20-21.

Text © by Chris Maser, 2010. All rights reserved.

Protected by Copyscape Web Copyright Protection

This article is excerpted from my 1998 book, Vision and Leadership in Sustainable Development. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, FL. 235 pp. It is updated in my 2012 book, Decision Making For A Sustainable Environment: A Systemic Approach. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. If you want more information about this book, want to purchase it, or want to contact me—visit my website.

If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.


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