Anytime I have the chance to encourage a room full of leaders, I love giving them the opportunity to ask questions.

The questions give me insight into what they are thinking and serve as a measure of feedback on my level of clarity as a communicator. A couple of days ago while at an event in Virginia, one of the participants asked the following … How long do you continue to pour into a struggling team member before you part ways?

There are several layers to this question. Certainly the answer is more complex than a simple blogpost can address. But let me share some ideas and give you a couple of things to consider. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section at the end of the post.

For me, having led a few struggling team members, I always tried to stay the course as long as I could see progress. Frequently, the progress was my own as much as it was the struggler.

Many times leaders are frustrated with team members when perhaps they should be frustrated with themselves. Failure to create role clarity, provide boundaries, make known expectations, and give feedback can lead to low performance. Before you ask the How Long question, make sure you look in the mirror and evaluate your level of leadership.

Assuming you have done your part and the team member is still struggling, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the issue character related or is this a skill gap that can be closed?
  • Is the team member committed to making ongoing progress?
  • If I wait 90 days to make a change, where do I anticipate the situation will be given our current rate of progress?
  • How long can I afford to stay the course?
  • Would our team be stronger if the team member was no longer here?
  • Would I hire this person again?

If you do need to part ways, I will leave you with two principles I heard years ago. They have served me well whenever it was time to let someone go. I’m not sure who first said either, but I promise they will help you when you have to make a tough call.

Principle 1: “If you’re going to cut off my arm don’t start with my hand.” Refusing to do what needs to be done will only prolong the agony. Failure to fire someone who needs to go will hurt the team by draining morale. Trust will wane and eventually business will suffer. Waiting will not make a disease go away. Do what you need to do!

Principle 2: “Shoot your own horse.” When it is time to sever the relationship, remember it is a relationship. Don’t send someone else to do your dirty work, especially when you have history together. Resist the urge to dehumanize the one being terminated. They still have a family and a story. Attempt to communicate your gratitude for their contribution and encourage them as much as possible to move toward something better. But don’t expect it to be easy. Severance literally means, “to cut.” Remember, wounds heal with time and so can relationships.

So, how long? There really is no exact answer. However, if you will look in the mirror, monitor progress, and value the relationships of everyone involved, you can navigate the waves of change.

Leadership Begins at Home,


How would you answer the question – How long do you continue to pour into a struggling team member before you part ways?

Comment Below …

Author: Randy

Randy is an author, speaker, executive coach, and the CEO of InteGREAT Leadership. He invests his time encouraging leaders around the world.