Leadership hack 001 – understanding skill and will

Much leadership advice is generic.  In this series of posts, I aim to explore tactical tips for leaders to use when facing a specific problem.

How do you turn around a poor performing follower?

Understanding whether the follower has a lack of skill or lack of will (or even both) is essential to understanding how you might improve a follower’s performance.  It is then possible to decide whether there is a case for making the investment to improve the follower, or to whether to replace them (if possible).

The classic skill/will matrix (see below), argues that you should adapt your approach based on the level of know-how (skill) and know-why (will) of the follower (see Coaching for Leadership by Marshall Goldsmith).  Adapting your approach is a good idea, but it has two potential disadvantages.  First, you have to be sure that you have correctly diagnosed the problem (low will, low skill, or both).  Second, the recommended approach (coaching, delegating, supervising or supporting) is static and assumes that skill or will cannot be improved.

Skill Will Matrix

To improve your strategy, you need to challenge the assumption that skill or will cannot be developed.  Skill can be improved through training, education and apprenticeship.  Increasing will is harder, and may be impossible.  Fortunately, academics models such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and Hertzberg’s two-factor theory, provide compelling insight.  However, changing will may take more of your time and resources than changing skill.  In extream cases, there may be a point at which the return on the investment is uneconomical.  Therefore, once you feel that you have correctly diagnosed and sized the problem, you can then determine whether the investment is worth it.

In summary, determining whether a follower has a skill or will problem will help you come up with an action plan for addressing the underlying cause of a follower’s poor performance.  It is then up to you to determine whether this investment is worth it.