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Going out on a Limb for a “Problem Child”

Courage – Acting despite perceived or actual risk.

When I took over as a manager of a new team, I was told I would need to fire Edward. My predecessor briefed me on the current marketplace standing while also telling me about each team member.

As he pushed a file across the desk to me he said, “Edward is my problem child. Actually, now he is yours.” I asked if Edward had a coaching plan in place, to which the answer was, “No.” I pushed the file back across the desk and simply shared how I had no need to look at it. My predecessor told me I was making a “big mistake.” Maybe I was, but I decided to find out on my own.

In my first meeting with my new team, I let them know I had not looked at their personnel files. “I don’t care if you were in the dog house or the clubhouse with the last guy. Our relationship, and my coaching, will be based on what I see, not on someone else’s impressions. I want each of you to know you have a clean slate—starting now.”

At my first one-on-one meeting with Edward, he brought up several incidents from recent quarters and expressed remorse over his actions. He also shared how because of those past mistakes, he felt he never got a second chance from his old supervisor, and was wary of me, his new supervisor.  I am grateful he shared this with me. You see, Edward felt sure his old boss had set him up to fail with me. But instead, he got a second chance. As we talked through some of his past lessons learned, as well as defining what growth opportunities could set him up to win in the future, Edward left our meeting feeling as if he had a fresh chance to define his career.

That was 2002. Neither Edward’s first boss nor I are still with the company. But, do you know who is? Edward. And he is killing it! As I look back, I am able to see the risk. I went out on a limb for a guy I never met. My predecessor was right. I could have been making a “big mistake.” I went against the advice of a seasoned professional whom I respected. But, I was glad I did. Because we established the right footing, I never did look at Edward’s old personnel file. After all, he never gave me cause to do so. While Edward wasn’t perfect, we worked well together and grew together.

Do you know what else happened? Not only did Edward grow, but our relationship also had a positive impact on others in the team. When I stepped into the manager role, everyone knew who was in the doghouse or the clubhouse. When they realized they each had a chance to start on level ground, it gave team members renewed hope and determination.

While clubhouse dwellers may not have liked it at first, they soon realized they had a fair shake. Their performance was the most important thing. They would be coached based on what I witnessed, not on what I had heard.

Together, the team soon figured out I did not step into my role with pre-conceived biases. Everyone had a fair shot. As their leader and their coach, I could not let my fear of making a “big mistake” get in the way of doing my Duty by giving each individual a fresh start.

Clubhouse members were coached on weaknesses which had never been addressed before. Doghouse members were given a pathway for success. They discovered how with some work, they were promotable. Both groups were shocked. Yet, both sides got an honest assessment based on what I saw—not simply what I had been told.

Trust requires Courage. It does not take Courage to distrust somebody. The only risk in ignoring Edward’s old personnel file was the fact I could have learned Edward’s true nature the hard way. This was a possible outcome. But, I accepted the perceived risk and instead watched Edward thrive. Additionally, we broke down cliques which had formed between various performance levels within the team.

It is never easy to put your own reputation at risk and go out on a limb for someone you don’t know. But, an amazing thing happens when we have the Courage to give the gift of trust to someone who hasn’t earned it yet. They tend to become trustworthy! My team grew stronger because people trusted me to give them each a fair shot at success. Instead of relying on the hearsay comments of one person, I decided to find the truth in what I witnessed. As a result, the “problem child” became an all-star on a team which thrived on trust.

Dig Deep Questions:

  • Who can you go out on a limb with and trust this week? What coaching might they need?

  • What second chances can you give to another person?


Exercising Courage takes work and is a lifelong journey. We want to partner with you as you practice the habit of Courage daily, which is why we have created FREE tools and resources to guide your journey.

To make it easy to keep the definition of Courage visible on your screens and devices, we would like to share our FREE Courage backgrounds for desktop and mobile available for download at:

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