Problem Personality

2377179507_9ed2faac71_mThis week, two different coaching clients have wanted to talk about the same issue. How do you have a supervisory conversation with a member of the staff team who performs well on the essential functions of their job, but has some personality issues? (In one case the employee displays a very pessimistic attitude about everything; in the other case the employee is extremely introverted and emotional).


To deal effectively with personality or behavioral issues, you have to get your own thinking straight about what your role is as supervisor, and what you have a right to expect.  Consider these points:


  • Satisfying the performance requirements of a role involves meeting two basic sets of expectations. Employees must satisfy expectations about the essential functions of the job (the duties and tasks of the job), and they must satisfy basic expectations about the core competencies of the job (appropriate behavioral attributes, skills and attitudes). Successfully performing the duties and tasks of the job is only half of the equation. Behavior does matter, especially in the life of congregations! 
  • As a supervisor, it is incumbent upon you to set and communicate clear expectations about the essential functions and the core competencies. It is also your responsibility to provide regular and ongoing feedback to your employees about how they are performing on both the essential functions and the core competencies. 
  • It is not your job to change an employee’s personality. It is your job to set appropriate limits/boundaries around the expression of personality tendencies. The easiest way to keep this straight is to deliver feedback that simply describes the behavior that you are witnessing and then describes the behavioral standard you have in mind. Point out the gap between the standard and the actual and invite the employee to close that gap.

Here’s an example of how you might confront the behavior of an employee whose pessimism is getting in the way of effective performance.

“Michael, in yesterday’s staff meeting I presented some new ideas about improving our Sunday morning hospitality hour. Your immediate response was to critique my ideas and to point out why my ideas were destined to fail. I felt diminished and depleted by your comments because they seemed to suck the optimism out of the air and they shut down the creative mode we were in. Next time, I’d like you to let a little more time elapse between the presentation of an idea and your expression of criticism. Also, when you hear a new idea expressed by me or any other member of the team I’d like you to pause and think first about expressing a thought to make the idea better, instead of expressing a thought about why the idea isn’t any good.”

Notice that the feedback incorporated several key elements:

  1. A concrete description of the inappropriate behavior (including a description of the context and the behavior)
  2. A description of how you felt about the behavior (not what you thought about it)
  3. A description of how the behavior impacted you and others
  4. A clear explanation of what a more appropriate response would have been

Once you have covered all four of these points it’s important to pause and give the employee an opportunity to respond. After you’ve listened to their response you can draw them back to the standard you’re trying to establish and invite them to close the gap.

If you’re looking for a resource to better understand how to work with core competencies and essential functions I’d recommend When Moses Meets Aaron. Or you may want to consider attending my 3 day workshop, Stepping Up to Supervision in Atlanta this September.

Photo Credit: Hue Dew

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