Should you develop or terminate your executive leader?

As a CEO, executive coach and leader of CEO round tables, the most frequent problem that I am asked to help solve is centered around management and leadership performance.  The question that I am asked sounds something like this.  “I have a direct report who is not measuring up to my expectations.  Should I invest in his/her development, terminate their employment, or move them into a different job?

In order to help this executive properly solve their problem, it requires me asking them 15 questions.  Before you read the questions that I ask listed below, think of one of your direct reports who is currently not meeting job expectations to see if your answer becomes clear by the end of the list.

QUESTIONS 1 – 7:  Develop (Tune-up)

1. Is the leader (your direct report) reaching the specific agreed upon goals and expectations?

2. Is the leader experiencing higher than normal turnover in their department or division?

3. Have specific complaints been reported to you or H.R. concerning the leader’s effectiveness or leadership style?

4. Is the leader developing their staff effectively?

5. Is the leader meeting deadlines?

6. Is the leader working on the right priorities?

7. Does the leader have the resources necessary to perform their job (time, budget, staff)?

If your answer is “NO” to any of these 7 questions, the good news is that you can still develop this leader to grow and perform in their job with a good coach that provides an assessment, tools, exercises, and experiences to create self-awareness and skill development. Chances are, the coach will only need 3 or 4 coaching sessions with your under-performing leader as well as a feedback session with you to identify support that you can give your leader.  Using an analogy from the automotive industry, we call this a “TUNE UP”!  This investment may cost around $900 to $2,000.

QUESTIONS 8 – 11:  Develop (Overhaul)

8. Is the leader motivated to perform their job?  How do you know?

9. Does the leader have the background and experience necessary to perform their job?

10. Is the leader trusted and respected by his peers and direct reports?  How do you know?

11. Does the leaders’ values and behaviors align with the organizations values and expectations of behavior?

If your answer is “NO” to these next 4 questions, the good news is that these are coach-able areas, but will require a bigger investment of time and money to turn the situation and person around.  At this point, the question that you want to ask yourself is:  “Does this person contribute enough to the profitability and performance of the organization to warrant the investment?”  If using an outside coach, this “overhaul” will require administering a 360 assessment (perceptions), a behavioral assessment (Core personality) and about 6-15 hours of coaching over the course of 6 to 9 months.  The investment could cost between $2,800 and $7,000.

QUESTIONS 12 – 15:  Terminate (Trade-In)

12. Is the leader negatively influencing customers or anyone inside the organization?

13. Is the leader lacking accountability by blaming others or situations as well as avoiding problems that consistently happen?

14. Does the leader have the necessary a) aptitude, b) personality, and c) job interests needed to perform the job well?

15. Is the leader coach-able and open to change?

If your answer is “NO” to these last 4 questions, the unfortunate news is that parting ways may be the more responsible approach to driving your organization to greater performance.  If you try to coach and develop someone who will never “fit” the job, then you will always have mediocre performance.  If someone is not coach-able and willing to accept personal “ownership” for improvement, then no money spent on development will help this person succeed.  Engaging your recruiter or an outside search consultant who can assess your culture, search for the candidate with the right experience, background, aptitude, personality, and interests, integrate them into your culture and values, and develop their leadership competencies may be the more effective approach for the benefit of the organization and the people who work there.  What is the average cost associated with turning over an executive leader?  Typically it runs anywhere from 25 to 35% of their 1st year annual salary which does not include the time it takes for a new person to become productive and the expense in salary until that point.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to send me an email at