From time to time, I will be in conversation with a company officer, and I'll hear something like: "This employee I have just isn't making it. He won't put in the effort. He's got a bad attitude." Naturally, I ask them this question: "Is it possible that they need something from you that they're not getting?"
Which is typically met with mix of sputtering, wide eyes, and a rush to defend their unassailable leadership skill. Often, this includes informing me that I simply don't understand the apparently mysterious inner workings and behind-the-scenes magic of management.
There is a simple principle called the 100/100 rule, which has been around for a long time. The idea is simple: In any relationship that is not functioning well, the responsibility for this dysfunction lies 100% with you, and 100% with the other party, because either of you can fix it.
This isn't that terribly hard to understand. Most nod their heads, murmur "uh-huh" and proceed to repeat that the problem in this situation is that the other party isn't bringing their 100%. Many officers are quick to point out that their subordinates aren't bringing their best, and they then use this as an excuse not to do their job.
We all love to saddle others with the responsibility for failure, but we're terrified to examine our own participation in their lack of success. Imagine what might happen if you adopted this principle: "As far as I am concerned, if something is not working in a relationship, I am entirely to blame." Is this always true? Probably not. The point is, there is absolutely NOTHING productive about blaming a variable outside of your control for your lack of success.
You can control your own beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors. You cannot control these things in another person. Most importantly, you can control the nature of your interactions with another person to have a positive or negative effect.
I find this to be especially true in leadership/management roles.
Let us imagine that your job is to roll boulders up hills. And you encounter a heavy boulder. So, you go to your supervisor, and you say: "Sir, that boulder will NOT roll itself up that hill. I yelled at it twice. It won't budge." Your supervisor might respond like this: "So, you're saying that you can't get that boulder up the hill." Quick to defend yourself, you say: "No, sir, it's the boulder. IT won't go up the hill. How am I supposed to get it up there if it won't go?"
If it's not your job to help these people succeed, whose is it? If boulders just rolled themselves up hills, what, exactly, is the point of leaders?
Most of us agree that the company officer's primary function is to create an environment where the people in their care can function at their highest level. When your entire job is about finding ways to make people successful, their failure is your failure.
Teachers and students have a similar relationship. As a teacher, you must always assume that the failure of a student is because of your failure to teach. You must treat it as though the students need something that you are not providing, that you simply haven't found the right way to inspire and engage them. Is this true? Not usually. It is, however, the most powerfully productive way to view teaching. If you assume full responsibility for a student's or subordinate's failures, you will stretch your own abilities to find new ways to make them successful. Which is your job.
For those people whom you simply can't help succeed (I believe these individuals are rare), you can then feel satisfied that you have done everything in your power to make them successful, and that the deficiency truly is on their side of the equation. These are the students who fail and the employees who lose their jobs.
Most of us expect those around us to be self-motivated, enthusiastic, confident, capable, well educated, well trained, compassionate, and otherwise generally great. We also expect them to be this way all by themselves, by default. We expect everyone around us to be able to operate at his or her highest level, regardless of environment, background, or ability.
The reality of leadership is that many people need some help to get to their highest potential. Many people need that pep talk, those extra hours spent drilling, an ear to talk to, a pat on the back, a dose of infectious optimism, or someone who believes in their abilities to help them function at their best.
That's a leader's job.
Look at your people. Ask yourself, "Am I doing everything I can to make these people successful?" If you're not, start.