Not stepping up – pitfalls in making assumptions

Like many other phrases, “stepping up to the plate” has entered our lexicon from the sporting world.

Literally it means for a batter in baseball to move near home plate in preparation for striking the ball when it is pitched. Figuratively it has come to mean  —

To move into a position where one is responsible and ready to do a task.

 An often-reported frustration in the workplace is that someone (or group) is not “stepping up”. There is a job to be done and either the responsible person or group is not doing it.  As in any situation like this the reasons for this can be many and varied,

  • Is the person aware of the expectations of them and do they know that the task is part of their role?
  • Are they equipped (skills, resources, knowledge, systems) to do what is expected?
  • Do they feel empowered to do what needs to be done?
  • Do they have the right connections and have they the support of others?
  • Are there other barriers (politics, un-discussables, values and beliefs) that are getting in the way?

As a leader or manager in a situation where a team member (or even colleague) is considered not to be “stepping-up” you need to get behind assumptions about what might be causing this and find a way with the person concerned to assist them in stepping up.

Initially a conversation shaped by some of the questions above is a good place to start.

Assuming we know what is going on for others, what their view of the world is or what is driving them is one of the biggest pitfalls for all. It seems to be a long-standing failing in our education system, and to some degree how we are socialized, that we are not taught to check that we have the same meaning or truly explore what it is that is stopping people from performing as we expect?

Using well-constructed questions can help uncover a much greater range of information.

By this I mean, questions that

  • Cannot be answered by just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’
  • Uncover information that is ‘deleted’
    • For example if someone says “I am confused” don’t assume you know or just guess what is confusing them ask, “How are you confused?”,  “What is it that is confusing you?”
  • Cause a person to reflect
    • For example
      • “What would you like to have happen?”
      • “How will you know if you have achieved what you are after?”
      • “What is actually creating the difficulty for you in this situation?”
      • “Have you ever been in a situation like this before when you have been successful? Do you know people who have?”

Assisting people to step up to the plate and do what is expected often requires firstly understanding that you (and the other person) may be trapped by assumptions.

Get behind these with well constructed questions, and you can get clarity on what is needed to support someone in stepping up to the plate, bat in hand and ready to hit a home run.

Jill Tideman

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