Indications You Could be the Problem

Instinctively, leaders can be too quick to blame employees for poor behavior, lack of skills, and not meeting their expectations.

The leader’s expectations are high, yet the employee made a mistake by not meeting them. The mistake is like an onion. It has a strong smell and you want to get away from it as quickly as possible.

Mistakes can be distracting, emotional, depressing, costly, and make leaders angry.

However, a wise leader is quick to ask questions, patiently listen, be slow to speak, and slow to anger.

Follow this ancient teaching. Ask questions and listen. Be slow to speak and slow to anger until you have peeled back the layers of the onion. The outside may look bad, but the truth inside is often much more valuable.

Another common analogy is to consider the leader as a physician. A doctor must discern between symptoms and actual diseases. Symptoms could be related to numerous diseases, not just one. If you rush to diagnosis and treat the wrong disease, then you could make the patient worse. Or dead.

If you don’t address the core disease, then the symptoms multiply into additional variances of the sickness. The catalyst of the problems continues to spread and possibly accelerates.

Click on the image to read an article on how to literally avoid the pain of cutting onions.

Click on the image to read an article on how to literally avoid the pain of cutting onions.

In contrast, peel back the onion layer-by-layer by asking questions, listening, and gathering more data. Be open to different conclusions based on the facts. Cure the disease by first comprehending what it truly is.

For instance, why is an employee late to work, a meeting, or with a deliverable?

Or, why does an employee disregard company policy, procedure, value, or a best practice?

These are symptoms, not the core disease.

Peel back the onion.

The first layer of the onion might be instinctive. The employee is wrong. It’s that simple. End of story.

The second layer of the onion might indicate there was something that distracted the person or convinced them the deadline or standard was less important.

The third layer of the onion might identify one or more bad work habits of the employee.

The fourth layer of the onion might conclude nothing is stopping the distractions or anti-company standard messaging, which reinforces their bad work habits.

The fifth layer of the onion might point out part of the problem is other employees.

The sixth layer of the onion might catch a breakdown in process, soft skills, and consistency in the way this employee was hired, managed, developed, and/or retained.

The seventh layer of the onion often is part of the core problem, if not THE core problem. You find this issue in your mirror.

You, as the leader, have total control over how you hire, manage, develop, and retain each employee. Therefore, when there are ongoing symptoms, the cause is often the person in the mirror.


Your behaviors are not matching your expectations of others, your company standards and best practices, and possibly even your ethics.

Do you want the truth?

You are the primary problem. At least part of the core problem.

The employee must own their mistakes, but they cannot do this effectively or efficiently when their leader continues to mismanage, abuse, or neglect them.

Do you have the courage to choose your relationship with the employee over rushing to judgment so you can get back to your work?

“The plans of the diligent lead to profit, as surely as haste leads to poverty,” states Psalm 21.

Many leaders refuse to own their mistakes. They’re busy. It’s easier to blame others.

However, this teaches others their bad habits and motivates less than stellar performance.

Getting to the core of a problem is similar. It takes a bit more time. It’s often uncomfortable in some ways. You are required to maintain your emotions when others may be misbehaving. There may be some discomfort as you confront the facts, and find the employee is not the primary reason for the mistake.

Why are you the main problem?

Because you hired the employee. You manage them. You develop them. You retain them even though their performance is low. Your best practices and standards may have gaps or be outdated.

Leading people is a challenging discipline. It’s not an easy process, but a necessary one.

The more you peel back the onion with courage, integrity, and a commitment to grow as a leader… the fewer onions you have to peel.