Do you sometimes cut your team members some slack? If so, stop.

Cutting team members slack is bad leadership
Cutting your team slack is a failure of leadership. Doing nothing is never an option. (Click to Tweet)

Cutting people slack is code for “do nothing about it.” And doing nothing when someone messes up is poor leadership.

When team members mess up, it’s usually for one of 5 reasons:

1. Lack of training.

This is your fault as the leader. The response is not to “cut them some slack.” The response is to train them.

2. Incompetence.

Yes, it is possible that you made a bad hire. You need to either find a new position for this person or let him go…quickly!

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3. Distractions.

Life gets in the way. If their failure is due to a personal tragedy, I don’t cut them slack (do nothing), I do my best to comfort them and take the necessary steps to get them help, give them time off, or motivate them.

4. Bad combinations.

Three perfectly trained, competent, fully focused people who simply cannot work together makes for total chaos. Often, the problem lies not in the individuals but the combination of them. When the combination is right, 1+1+1=5. When it’s wrong, 1+1+1 adds up to something like the square root of pi. In this case, you may need to move one or more team members to another department or help them find a new team elsewhere.

5. Lack of accountability.

If a team member continually messes up the same thing in the same way, but there is no accountability, this is a failure of the leader. Holding people accountable is one of the most uncomfortable parts of being a leader. If you have been cutting your team slack and not holding them accountable, it is going to take a long time to start doing so and see the results, so get ready to dig in your heels. I’ve found that it takes approximately three instances of accountability in a specific area to make up for one time of failing to do so.

Cutting your team slack is a failure of leadership. Doing nothing is never an option.

That doesn’t mean you have to overreact or start a new training initiative or fire someone every time someone makes an error. That is going too far the other way. But it does mean that you should assess why the error occurred and address it.

Sometimes you will conclude that none of the five reasons above is applicable. In that case, what your team needs most are encouragement and an affirmation of belief in them. But even that is not cutting them slack.

Don’t cut them slack. Step up and be a leader.

Are you more likely to cut your team slack or address the problem?

25 thoughts on “Cut the Slack

  1. Carol Dublin says:

    I think two of the keys are consistency and clear expectations. If your team knows that you are fair and consistent, and have high expectations, they will probably start asking for additional training or help if things aren’t going well. And knowing that you will work with them helps them not feel like they are being called to the principal’s office when there’s a problem. Great post!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      VERY well said Carol. I almost copy/pasted a quote from your comment, but the whole thing is spot on.

      1. Steve Pate says:


    2. Wade_Thorson says:

      Very true, as you said defining those expectatioons up front and not just assuming they know what is expected and when. If you are not consistent with one employee the rest of the team will follow suit because they got away with that work ethic.

  2. Lily Kreitinger says:

    I like, like, like this post. Never thought of it this way. Definitely need to continue providing my team with the tools they need to work with excellence, not provide them excuses not to.

    Thanks, Matt!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Well said Lily. I am often to blame by not providing the right tools for my team.

  3. Joel Fortner says:

    I attempt to figure out why it happened before doing anything and then I respond accordingly. But I always respond. Standards are very important and we aim to achieve them.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Exactly. Not cutting slack isn’t an invite to “fly off the handle” or overreact. But something must always be said or done.

    2. Mark Sieverkropp says:

      You know, I think of it kind of like how the Gospel works. There are laws. We (as imperfect humans) break those laws from time to time. And when we do, the Savior doesn’t ignore the fact that we broke a law, the Bible is very specific, Paul point outs that ALL have sinned. But what happens is The Savior then acts by invoking grace as we repent.
      …If that makes any sense and seems like a parallel to anyone else?

      1. Steve Pate says:


  4. Mark Sieverkropp says:

    Great post Matt. I think cutting someone slack is the “easy way out”. It’s code for ignoring an issue hoping it will go away. That doesn’t work with marital issues…it won’t work at work either!
    I think the problem is we forget that there are all of these options for addressing it. We think either we’re a complete, hard-driving jerk of a leader, or we cut them slack. Whereas those aren’t your only options! Thanks for breaking it down so simply my friend!

  5. Wade_Thorson says:

    I am currently working with a team member on the accountablity aspect. I had given them freedom in the past to complete the tasks on time and track appropriately. But because I wasn’t holding the person accountable problems arise. My goal is to develop them to be able to handle the tasks without me holding them accountable.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      You always have to hold them accountable. Even crediting them with a job well done is holding them accountable and reminding them of the preferred action/result.

  6. Steve Pate says:

    alright then what do you do when your not the “leader” of the over all team and you watch your boss do this all the time with other team members for the sake of “feelings”?

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Mind if I make that into another post? Or…is it urgent enough you need me to answer now? 🙂

      1. Steve Pate says:

        for sure man,(on another post)!

      2. Matt McWilliams says:

        On it! Look for it in the next 2 weeks.

      3. Matt McWilliams says:

        Steve, this post will be live tomorrow.

  7. I find manager cut people slack because it’s easier then confronting them.

    Nice post.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      That’s why I used to do it. Confrontation is always awkward…but necessary.

  8. Tom Dixon says:

    Sometimes overlooking something is a sign of good discernment on the part of the leader – and I’d argue that intentionally overlooking is doing something. Great post, Matt!

  9. Jon Stolpe says:

    I probably fall in the middle with a lean towards cutting slack more often than holding the line. I can see how my leadership would improve if I took a firmer approach to some of the problems on my team. Thanks for the encouragement to take care of business with my team members.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      My pleasure Jon. I’d love to hear how it goes!

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