Why Leaders Must Artfully Confront

On this edition of Lessons in Leadership, Steve Adubato and Mary Gamba are joined by Yvonne Surowiec, SEVP, Chief People Officer, Valley Bank and Jake Rahiman, Senior Vice President of Talent Management at Valley Bank, talking about “work-life balance,” a return to a hybrid work environment and the importance of leadership development. Then, Steve and Mary talk with Jim Kirkos, President & CEO, Meadowlands Chamber, about the impact COVID-19 has had on small business in New Jersey, the American Dream and what the fall holds for the Meadowlands region.


As leaders, we must confront or deal with difficult, challenging and often uncomfortable situations. This is so easy to say, and so much harder to do. There is nothing fun about confrontation, but when leaders refuse to or are incapable of dealing with these sticky situations, organizations pay a heavy price. Consider the following when it comes time to artfully confront an individual or a situation.

  • Don’t be unnecessarily argumentative or contentious. Instead, be the kind of thoughtful, courageous and strategic leader and communicator that says; “This is not a good situation. It’s been going on for a while, and if I as a leader and we as an organization don’t deal with it in a constructive and candid fashion it should have a seriously negative impact on our team.” It is all about how you frame your message.
  • Use confrontation as a coaching and mentoring tool. When a team member isn’t performing at a level the team needs in order to succeed, view this as an opportunity to confront the situation by coaching the team member on specifically what he or she needs to improve upon. Then, if even after continued coaching, if the particular team member isn’t “getting the job done,” it may be time to get him or her “off the bus.”
  • Consider that a team member may be “playing out of position.”  Simply put, you may need to confront the fact that a specific team member is not right for a particular role on the team. He or she may not have the skills, the inclination, or the mindset to do what the organization needs. The best leaders identify responsibilities and projects that better take advantage of his or her skillset.
  • Swiftly confront a negative attitude.  Even if a team member has the requisite skills and is doing a competent enough job, if his or her overall attitude and demeanor is counterproductive and disruptive to the team, it must be confronted immediately. The danger of not doing so will impact the morale of other team members, overall team productivity and frankly has a negative impact on the leader’s psyche. It can also cause the team leader to lash out and contentiously bicker with others.
  • Use real life examples. Use concrete and specific examples to paint a clearer picture of how you see the situation. Don’t assume the other person understands just because you understand. When confronting a particular situation be sure to cite real-life, actual examples where the team member fell short so he or she can learn from the experience.
  • Manage your emotions. Regardless of the message you are delivering, emotions can easily become charged. The key is to keep your emotions in check, and if you see the other person starting to get defensive or emotional, navigate the situation carefully by either reframing the discussion or taking a quick pause to the meeting.
  • Be flexible and agile. When you anticipate push back, defensiveness, or an outright rejection, you need to be prepared to adapt your conversational strategy accordingly. By simply thinking that things will work out the way you want them to basically means you are not prepared.
  • Be empathetic. Take the time to think about what YOU would want to hear in a similar situation. Imagine what it might be like to receive the information you are about to share. In many cases, when the other person believes that you are making that attempt, they feel appreciative. Again, they are not happy to hear the news, but your effort to empathize will make it just a little more bearable.
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