Tech & Work

My subordinate says he "gets it." So why won't he change?

Emotional intelligence is an issue that most managers simply don't understand. In this blog, leadership coach John M McKee provides insight into what to look for and how you can deal with someone who "just doesn't get it".

"I have done everything to get this guy on track. Each time I talk to him I think we've finally got an understanding about what he needs to do; but then - nothing! What do I need to do?"

Ever had a subordinate who seems to have the right mix to do the job, but then always slips and falls before the task is complete? Or, perhaps, you've been in the situation where you've spent a lot of time and effort to hire just the right job candidate only to then find out that she's not up to the requirements.

Don't worry - you're not, as they say in Colorado, the lone ranger. It's more common than you may expect. And the reason for their inability may be more obvious than you thought.

In today's workplace, most companies simply can't afford to carry anyone who's not able or won't get the job done. Every day we see more companies' announcements about slowdowns, layoffs, offshoring, or using consultants versus hiring.

It's tough out there. And all the indicators say that if you're working in one of the so-called Western countries, it's going to get tougher. (Little known fact: some estimates put India's middle class workforce at about 150 million employees by the end of 2012. That's the size of the entire U.S. workforce today and most of those people in India will be doing work which had previously been done elsewhere. Yes- it's going to get worse for a lot of people.)

Suffice it to say, in most organizations, we need all of our team working at optimal performance. Or we'll need to replace them.

So why would someone who is smart, apparently capable, talented, and willing not just make the necessary change you discussed with her when she indicated she understood? It may simply be that she cannot. Intellectually she gets it - but emotionally they can't change. And it that case, you can't do anything. Not quickly anyway.

Depth Psychologists tell us that if two people are communicating and one is significantly more advanced emotionally, there will likely be a communication breakdown. Without any desire to belittle anyone, the example they use is one of a grown-up talking to a child. And this is pretty understandable when you noodle on it.

If a grown-up is telling a child something beyond his comprehension level, the child won't be able to respond appropriately. It's not that the kid doesn't want to, he just doesn't quite understand how to do what's expected of him. I know that anyone reading this blog understands this - it's "common sense," right?

But what you may have forgotten is that most children won't grow and end up at the same adult levels as each other emotionally. So you have a miscommunication with one asking for something that the other appears to grasp intellectually but can't respond to  appropriately. Generally accepted is the idea that if one person is more than two levels higher in terms of emotional intelligence than another, there will be a miscommunication. It seems that we can "improve" one level at a time but beyond that, as they say, "we're just not ready."

And so, you can push, pull, encourage, and threaten - all to little avail.

Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any statistically valid psychometric testing (like a Myers-Briggs Temperament Sorter, for example) that can help us determine the "EQ" levels of our staffs with confidence. There are a few on the market however, and I may just not have found the best tool yet.

If you've got one of these folks on your team, you'll have to make the tough call: keep him and hope that training or coaching may get him on track, let him go and replace him with someone who can do the job, or continue trying to push him until he decides to leave.

Beyond those options, the only advice I can offer is to suggest you read up on this issue. At least then you'll be prepared when it comes around. The best book I've come across is probably the landmark on the subject. Written back in 1995 by Daniel Golman, it's called Emotional Intelligence.


Leadership Coach


John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

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