Leading and influencing people will bring forth challenges—it’s not a question of if but when. All of us have wills and opinions that we assert and sometimes those clash with others. If you are leading or managing others, one of these conflict moments is when someone does not follow-through on a directive you gave. The receiver of directive simply fails to accomplish what needed to be accomplished. This is the prime time for training and reframing. A strong leader will not let this moment pass or sweep it under the rug. Here is an exercise you can complete as a leader anytime something didn’t get done or done well.



The first thing the leader must do is to ask himself or herself, “Was I clear enough in my expectations?”

                1. Did I state the who, what, when, where, how and why clearly?

                2. Can I frame the answers of those questions to myself?

                3. Did I verbalize or express each answer in the directive?

Next ask the directive receiver these questions:

                1. What did you hear me say about this project/action/etc.?

                2. Why do you suppose I gave you that directive?

                3. What did you do towards accomplishing it?

                4. Why did you approach it in that way?

If another person was in the room when the directive was given, it can be wise to pull them aside and ask them the same five questions.

Once you gain the answers to these questions, you must then come to terms with why the receiving party did not comply with your requests. All lack of following directive can be tied to one of the following four areas.




Perhaps the receiver was distracted, has ADD, or was pre-occupied. Sometimes brilliant people simply struggle with listening. His or her answers to the questions above will quickly reveal whether your instructions were heard and comprehended. If you work with a poor listener, there are steps you can take to begin to train them to listen better. Ask them to restate your directive back to you at the time they are given it. Sometimes you might have to require them to stop everything they are doing, look at you, and even take notes. Over time, if they are unable or unwilling to improve their listening skills you’ll have to make a decision as to keeping them on the team.


Sometimes lack of following your directive is because people don’t have the skill set and/or resources needed to execute whatever it is they are assigned to do.

Three thoughts can emerge as a receiver is hearing a directive:

                1. I don’t know how to do this but I am too embarrassed to say so.

                2. I don’t have the necessary resources but don’t want to be seen as a complainer.

                3. I know how to do this. (In reality they don’t yet possess the skills and know-how to accomplish this.)

If the first answer is given, you must get that member “over himself or herself.” State that they should never be embarrassed to state what will be obvious to all soon, “I don’t’ know how to do that.” Tell them you value honesty more than appearances. Let them know your organization values training, equipping and coaching. They will never be punished or reprimanded if they freely admit to not knowing how to do something (unless they lied on their resume or in the job interview.) Ramp up training and communication to see if their skill set can be brought up to the quality level of the task required Most people love learning a new skill. Slowing down enough to teach them the know-how, systems and processes, and network of knowledge ultimately speeds up your organization in the long run. 

If they say they lack the resources, thank them for that feedback and never merely say, “Figure it out.” Part of a good leader’s job is removing any resource obstacles. Note, this doesn’t always mean you provide them additional resources in terms of human capital, money or equipment. It can mean you simply help them see how to accomplish more with the resources they currently have at their disposal. Both serve to remove the obstacle.

After ample time is given to the receiver for training, if he or she can still not perform the task, a lateral move or downward move may be considered. In that case you must ramp up training and communication to see if their skill set can be brought up to the quality level of the task required. Sometimes it can and sometimes it cannot.


It takes time before a newer member of the organization gains enough experience to know how to prioritize everything he or she must do to aid the goals of the business. Almost all of us remember the foggy first weeks (or months) on a job where we were trying to get acclimated and asking, “What would you like me to do next?” All of our priorities were being set for us.

But as time passes, the assumption is that team members can see a bigger picture and the goals of the organization allowing them to prioritize all the directives and objectives before them. This can be a fatal assumption. Good leaders check in with all team members and ask:

                1. What do you see as the most important thing you have to get done to move the ball forward?

                2. Why do you think that is the most important thing?

Helping them reprioritize and showing them why you reprioritize as you do is the key exercise. What you don’t want them to do is merely accomplish the latest directive given.


A fourth reason people don’t accomplish the directive is a much bigger issue. In this case the person heard the directive and possesses the necessary skill set, but the just won’t execute according to protocol and standards. Why?

They might not see something as vital and important (communicating along proper channels, learning their part, hitting cues, laziness, etc.) and so they assume–which is the root of all conflict–it won’t matter if they don’t execute it well (we call this a Level 1 compliance problem). Another reason for a compliance problem is that the party doesn’t agree with the system, methods and standards, and they either don’t care or don’t know how to communicate it well, so they take it upon themselves to remedy the problem on their own accord ignoring the directive (Level 2). The worst manifestation is a “cut your feet out from you” compliance problem where someone has a personal issue with you and your leadership so they attempt to intentionally sabotage leadership to spite you (Level 3).

The compliance issue MUST be acted upon quickly. A level 3 compliance issue is typically grounds for a write-up and/or termination. Once the line has been crossed where someone is sabotaging a leader a quick decision must be made. The old adage, “hire slow, fire fast,” definitely is in play here. A Level 1 or 2 violation can be assigned a probationary period to see if a change of heart occurs. A greater frequency of reporting in on activity can be required. Regardless of the action taken by leadership, the non-compliant staff member must be told that their action or lack of action is not something that is tolerated.

So next time someone has trouble following a directive or implementing an action, be a leader. Run through this compliance exercise and find the root of the problem. Hopefully it is something that can be remedied and the team member again functions as a strength for the overall organization.

The Keller Influence Indicator® can help you grow your influence abilities and reduce the amount of conflict in the workplace as you more effectively gain buy-in to needed directives. 


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From regional manager to international executive with quadruple the pay, Karen Keller’s unique blueprint carefully outlined the step-by-step process for creating high-impact influence and let me know when I was being influenced in a way that didn’t serve me.
Lloyd Moore
Global Director Supplier Quality & Development - Lear Corporation – South Carolina