I was talking with a client recently about a staff member he is contemplating performance managing. Not a process that anyone enjoys.

My ears pricked up when my client said, “I should have listened to my guts when she (my client’s direct report) said blah, blah, blah.”

Insert your own version of blah, blah, blah – what I’m interested in is the part where he declares he should have listened to his guts.

How many times do we ignore red flags like this in our lives?

How many times do we look back and say something like “I should have trusted myself”?

Going back a hundred millennia or so, our guts were the early warning system that kept us alive. This is one of the primary reasons our species has survived: our instincts were highly developed, and more importantly, we were adept at trusting them.

Fast forward to 2020, and there are many people who cannot answer the deceptively simple question, “How do you feel?”

Can you? How do you feel?

We’ve lost our capacity to know what our feelings, our guts and our instincts are saying, and to go with their supreme advice which is hampering our capacity as managers.

We’ve been schooled in living in our heads and become ensconced in a society that trades in fear.

Advertising, religion, news, politics – these systems all thrive on creating fear among the masses in order to benefit their cause. When you’re surrounded by this fabricated fear, as we are in the West, ignoring it is as hard as swimming against the tide.

Repeated over and over, hearing it over and over, we start to buy the story that our world is dangerous. We forget the motives of those selling fear as this year’s hot new product or catastrophic news story.

Our capacity to judge danger for ourselves moves from our gut to our head, where we toss it back and forth waiting for a risk-free answer to magically materialise.

You may have heard me say this before, and it’s worth remembering: “A life free of risk is the goal of a dead man.” Therefore, fear is inevitable.

Getting back to my client and his team member, potentially facing the life-changing experience of being sacked… my client ignored his gut instinct when his team member said, “Blah, blah, blah.

If a staff member says or does something that triggers a negative reaction from your gut, stop and take stock.

Almost without fail, your guts will be right.

Addressing these red flags can be the difference between an experience that will cause grief for all concerned, and turning the situation into an experience that benefits everyone: the staff member, the team, the organisation and you, their manager. The first step is being aware that you ignored the issue.

I fully appreciate that there are a million reasons why you might push on through red flags, but consider this: it’s easier to lose one kilogram then 10.

Solve a small problem now, before a big problem has time to develop.

If you’d like some ideas on how to address a staffing issue that could lead to performance management, read this blog on Delivering Negative Feedback.