I don’t recall the speaker’s name, but his story and the lesson has been etched in my brain for years. He was a consultant, speaking about a client who owned a business with multiple locations. One location lagged behind the others by an ever-growing margin, so the owner asked him to visit the location, meet with the team, review operations and give him an opinion on what he should do. Upon returning from the visit, they had dinner to discuss what they learned. Anxiously the client asked, “What did you learn?” After first sharing about the potential for the location, he responded to the question. “You need to make a leadership change quickly. The head of the operations is in over his head, he’s not listening to his team, employees don’t trust him, he’s managing in ways that might have worked in the past, but not today, and overall, things are out of control.” The client said nothing for a minute and then said, “That’s my dad you’re talking about.” The consultant smiled and responded, “No, I met your dad and had dinner with him, he’s a great guy. I liked him very much. But the guy who is running your operations needs to go or it will seriously damage your business.”

The owner clearly had a serious problem because he couldn’t separate the person from their performance. It was his father. The consultant didn’t have the same problem and was able to separate them, a lesson for us in handling difficult situations, in our professional and personal life.

A friend of mine’s son had a high school basketball coach who was a great teacher, a wonderful husband and father. The problem was, he wasn’t as good at coaching basketball, an opinion shared by many. If anyone tried to have a conversation with the leadership in the school about coaching ability and its impact, he was defended as a person, not a coach. No one ever wanted to engage in the discussion about performance on the court.

Here’s a reality in this world. Wonderful people aren’t good at everything. They will be better at some, not so good at others. And wonderful people will make mistakes too and do bad things, or stupid things. They can even be in over their head. Performance doesn’t change who they are as a person.

I’ve watched leaders and team members make two mistakes caused by not separating performance from the person.

  • Assumed intent – People mistakenly assume the behavior was intentional, as if they woke up in the morning with the intent to make life difficult for others. I’ve found that to be extremely rare. Assuming intent clouds how we look at the person, expecting problems that may not be. This also causes people to jump to conclusions without asking questions and getting the full story. Irreparable harm can be done.
  • Inaction – We see it and ignore what we see. Why? Because we like or care about them and can’t separate them and their performance, as if dealing with the performance is an assault on the person. It is not. Doing nothing helps no one, especially the person whose behavior or performance isn’t what it could be because they don’t have an opportunity to fix things. If you see something, deal with it.

Always remember you can love someone, but not their behavior or performance.

“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. Matthew 18:15 NLT

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