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Lead Like a Buddhist - Performance Tips

Why can’t people just do what we want them to do?

Why is leading others so exhausting and difficult?

Why don’t managers receive feedback well, regardless of how many ways it’s provided?

To quote the classic rom-com sidekick dutifully helping their wayward pal navigate the elusive metropolitan dating scene…

Maybe it’s you.

Leaders commonly task managers to deal with employee performance. However, like most things, the tone of feedback and performance starts with leadership.

Feedback (and I cringe at the word) is historically anxiety-provoking, awkward and, for those reasons, often avoided. Even biofeedback - our bodies’ physical signals to us - in the form of fear, anxiety, pain or stress, is something we run from instead of listen to. Countless articles, trainings and social posts exist on how to communicate performance. But this skill, for many, remains cloudy. And when things are cloudy they are more difficult. And when things are more difficult, we rush through them or avoid them altogether. You see where this is going.

Here’s what you’re missing:

False Beliefs Can Rule the Roost

Our brains like easy, linear and simple containers. They create stories, which become beliefs, which, if unchecked, can become our truths. If we operate from these false truths, we muddy the water with emotional content and knee-jerk reactions that can send our employees running for the hills.

Here’s a breakdown of how this occurs:

  1. Performance meeting is held
  2. Employee fails to improve
  3. False logic, circular reasoning and frustration leads to false belief - “Employee is lazy/disengaged/defiant”
  4. Emotionally charged future reviews (even subtle emotional signals are often felt)
  5. Continued failure by employee, increased stress for both

If you struggle with this, use the tool below to guide you through reviews:

What’s the challenge?

When did it begin?

What was happening in the company and with the individual’s role at the time? (you can also respectfully ask this of the employee)

Is the employee trained to fluency (meaning the task or skill has been performed before, with competence and without hesitation)?

If no- this is a skill deficit, meaning a training failure.

If yes- this is a performance deficit- meaning a failure to perform based on motivation, health struggle or looming burnout

It Takes Two

Performance is behavior, and behavior is bidirectional. If we cannot first manage our own emotions, we risk heading into leadership situations in an emotional state, which is likely to send managers and employees into a similar state. The task then fails to serve its purpose - to continuously grow and support each employee - and places each individual into an amygdala hijack, enhanced by looming unwritten messages, such as - “you are underperforming and it’s frustrating me”.


Annual Reviews Are Unhelpful, Illogical Rubbish

Research shows that the most effective frequency with which to provide feedback is much more often than we once thought. Employees do best when given information on their performance on a daily and weekly basis. If this frequency is exponentially more effective in supporting employees and nurturing the employee-manager relationship, why not focus on technology, time management and training-to-fluency in this area?

So, Now What?

What does meditation and the Buddhist concept of non-attachment have to do with performance feedback?

Meditation allows us to increase the time between stimulus and response. This means that we become better equipped at 1) noticing our own frustrations and 2) reeling in our emotionally-driven behavior, so we can respond instead of react. The concept of non-attachment is predicated upon the idea that the process is more important than the result. When we are operating from a calm, alert state and focused on the process over the outcome, managing another individual transitions from “how can I make this person do what I need them to do?” to “what is the next step in their process of their growth, and what do they need to get there?”.

When we are able to do this, we experience a valuable perspective shift. Instead of taking performance failures personally or becoming irritable with our people, we can use the decision-making tool above with ease. It is no longer about the time they are costing you, the time you spent on them, or how this is affecting your day. When we can detach from the belief that our people represent us (ego) and instead focus on our own ability to serve (skills we can control), we can redirect attention back to the logical questions found above.