You're neither in control nor responsible for their failures

"Where does one draw the line between having someone learn on the job and someone not having fundamental knowledge to do the job? How can I be certain this person can up-skill themselves?"

"How do I support someone who's already feeling insecure, but without letting them off the hook for their poor performance?"

As a coach, I get some variations of these questions regularly.

Some leaders feel frustrated that their underperforming employee is not receptive to feedback and coaching. Some question their ability to coach. Some are afraid to even broach the subject because of their employee's already fragile state.

Whatever the situation, the motivations, the emotion, and the wording behind these questions, they're all based on the same false assumption. The assumption is that you, the leader, are responsible for your employee's failures and successes.

I'm a pet parent to an elderly Boston Terrier named Stewie. He's 14. A couple of years ago, he completely lost his hearing. And his sight is mostly gone now as well.

He spends his days wandering around the house, bumping into things, and whining about wanting to snuggle.

But if you try to help him get comfortable—find him a safe corner where he won't get trampled by kids, build him a soft pillow nest, or cover him with a blanket to help him stay warm—he refuses to settle.

He'll wiggle out from under the blanket, claw his way out of the pillow nest, and just flat-out refuse your help. He has to do it on his own terms! Even if the result looks like this:

Have you heard the saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink?"

To use yet another metaphor, like a gardener, you can only create favorable conditions for your employees to flourish. But some won't, no matter how much you water them… I might have gotten lost in my metaphors.

Anyway, here's something for you to ponder. Do you feel just as responsible for your capable employees' wild successes? You probably don't because that would be mighty presumptuous of you, won't it? Then why won't you extend the same courtesy to yourself with your less successful employees?

Ultimately, you're neither in control nor responsible for your employees' failures and successes. But you are responsible for creating an environment in which they can thrive—hold yourself accountable for that!