The ability to actually develop people over time is one of the most significant differences between leaders and managers. Managers have the mindset to do the best they can with the people they have, while leaders learn how to take the people they have and make them better. Most experienced leaders and coaches know that the best way to begin to influence people’s perceptions of themselves is to affirm their talents and value gradually and very persistently. Most people are not used to another person looking at them and actually seeing more talent and more upside than everyone else perceives. This is exactly what exceptional leaders do.
Great coaches and leaders would much rather be guilty of overestimating a person’s ability than underestimating it. The most effective leaders know and understand that once you peel back all of their formal leadership functions, they’re in the “high expectations business.” So how do we begin to turn these high expectations we have for our team members into real results?
It starts with a vision for each person having a bigger and more important role on your team. You have to take time to be with your people and explain how you see them expanding their roles and their impact in the organization as you work towards their (and your) vision. You must explain that you believe that they could be a much more influential part of the team, and get their thoughts and insights about the best ways to do this.
In the past, I have actually had to apologize to people on my team for not giving them enough responsibility and underutilizing their skills. The key is to give everyone an important piece of the overall vision that they alone are responsible for. It must be tangible, measurable, and greater responsibility than they had before. If you can tie an incentive to an expected increase, then do it. An incentive tied to any kind of production increase is a no-risk proposition for you because you pay for such incentives out of the growth attained. Incentives should be organized with the full expectation that the goals will be realized or exceeded.
Often, the new responsibilities that you assign to people will be in areas that they themselves have recognized as areas of low performance. Be prepared to discover complete mismatches between people and their areas of highest interest. Low performance organizations match people with their preconceived competencies, to the stuff on their resume, or to what they studied in college many years ago. High performance organizations can hit warp speed by matching people with their areas of passion.
Here are a few examples. Susan types 100 words a minute, can take dictation, and is always coming up with crazy and workable marketing ideas. She’s an original. Where can she make the most difference on your team? It’s your job to find the best way to use her unique combination of talents to help the team. Jimmy is a “geek” who works in the IT department who also happens to be a fantastic public speaker. Maria works in fulfillment and has many years of experience with the company. She’s also an excellent interviewer and has been deployed as a company value spokesperson.
Learning to discover and leverage talents (wherever you may find them) is an important skill for the exceptional leader. Through systematic questioning and talking to your team, you will find obvious connections between certain people and the areas and outcomes that they’re most interested in. These are areas they may be able to exert influence. By paying attention to these “matches,” you will increase the effectiveness of your delegation and see much more passionate work from people. You will see people go from average to excellent right before your eyes and sometimes do it with amazing speed.
As you make the rounds, if you identify someone whom you cannot see playing any important role in the organization, you must take action. This a part of leadership that most leaders avoid, but you cannot realistically expect everyone to be on-board and really want to play a meaningful role on your team. You can, and should, expect everyone to be interested in team progress enough to want some real responsibility, though. They should be excited about the opportunity to be a part of something as ambitious as what you’re in the process of building. There must be contribution, belief, and enthusiasm.
On an improving team, a single person who refuses to be involved or who makes an effort to ooze cynicism will keep the team connected to the past. A developed leader can’t accept that kind of risk. On a high-performance team, the opposite of positive productive energy is not negativism–it’s apathy. The good news is that most initially negative people are usually “sellable” and will go from skeptic to advocate with equal passion. You can be patient with them as long as they don’t absorb too much attention or energy. This person should be given every possible opportunity to get excited about what’s going on. He should be allowed to watch for a short while to be sure that this (and you) are “for real.” If after a reasonable amount of time it becomes clear that he has no real connection to where the team is going, then the team should go on without him.
Excerpt from the Best Selling Book….”What Exceptional Leaders Know”, co-authored with Wally Schmader…available on AMAZON!