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Every so often I hear a phrase so well-tuned that I say to myself, “I wish I had thought of that.” That happened a few months ago when I was talking with a leader to get his feedback on someone they previously managed.
The description of the former leader was this: they regularly “inspired his team to underperformance.”
I laughed out loud when he said that and asked him to elaborate on how that happened. The essence of his answer was that the predecessor leader didn’t set high enough expectations for his team and failed to even follow through on the low bar that he did set.
In close to 15 years of individual and group coaching, I’ve seen a lot of well-intentioned leaders who, by setting the bar too low, inspired their teams to underperformance. Either they are so nice that they fail to inspire action with low expectations. Or, they become hyper-focused on accountability and perceive everyone is taking it easy.
After facilitating countless 360 degree leadership assessments, team consulting and as a Judgment Index analyst, I’ve come to some conclusions about how leaders fail to fully leverage their teams.
Based on the patterns I’ve seen, here are three things to do if you want to stop inspiring your team to underperformance:
Connect, but inspire action. – My observation is that leadership behaviors typically fall into one of two broad categories – behaviors that drive results and behaviors that build relationships.
The best leaders, in my experience, exhibit roughly equal amounts of results-driven and relationship-building behaviors. There’s a difference between short-term nice vs. long-term nice. The short-term nice approach is to sugarcoat it for people and let them coast or drift along. The long-term nice move is to be straight up about what’s expected and coach them to get there so they grow as the organization grows.
Let Go of the Work – Another thing that leaders who inspire underperformance do is hold on to work they shouldn’t be holding on to. Some avoid overwhelming a team by holding on to work that they think is going to be too much for their team to handle. That’s almost always the wrong call. Instead of helping their team, they’re hurting them by becoming a bottleneck. The other thing that happens is by holding on to the work, they hold back their team’s development.
I’ve never heard someone say “My boss is giving us too much work.” On the other hand, I regularly see direct report comments along the lines of “My boss is holding on to things she should be giving to us and, by doing so, she’s holding us back.”
Share Perspective and Information – The best leaders inspire their team’s performance by connecting their work with the bigger goals of the organization. In doing so, they focus a lot more on the “Why” and the “What” of the work than the “How.” If you’re the leader of a team, you likely have access to information, people and conversations that your team doesn’t have. All of that shapes your perspective as a leader. That perspective is only valuable to the degree that you share that perspective with your team. I love it when I hear “My manager shares information and perspective with us that my peers on other teams don’t get from their bosses.” The people who make comments like that are on higher performing teams because they have the context and information they need to make smart decisions without having to constantly ask for permission or validation.
See anything here that could inspire and raise the performance of your team? What would you add to the list?
Einstein said “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”
Exceptional things can happen with minimal talent.
In culture, we idolize talent, titles and temporary fame….confusing what’s exceptional with ego.
However, I’ve seen exceptional people shine when others’ have dismissed or discounted their potential.
Here are ten that have huge impact on our potential and performance:
- Be on time
- Work Ethic
- Body Language
- Being Teachable
- Doing Extra
- Being Prepared
Real influencers are leaders before others recognize them as a “leader.“
You don’t have to have a higher degree or a large “title” to impact those around you.
Simons Sinek’s thoughts here are a great start (see below).
We live in the screen saturated culture which often distracts/or prevents some from building healthy relationships – so limiting cell phone use and teaching how to give and receive feedback are essential.
Today’s generation lacks positive leadership role models, so teaching and demonstrating leadership are huge.
What else would you add?
Google’s Project Oxygen created buzz several years ago when they concluded, after deep research, that the typical success of an individual employed at the tech juggernaut was based on Emotional Intelligence and not the assumed stellar STEM acumen (Science, Tech, Engineering, Math).
Now, its recent discovery about Team High-Performance also upended the team development paradigms through Project Aristotle. The content below was quoted from their research.
First, researchers discovered which variables were not significantly connected with team effectiveness at Google:
- Colocation of teammates (sitting together in the same office)
- Consensus-driven decision making
- Extroversion of team members
- Individual performance of team members
- Workload size
- Team size
So what was the magic sauce for High Team Performance at the Tech Giant?
If these 5 aren’t blooming on your team, first ask yourself if there are politics, egos and drama at play.
But how do you start building these into the culture of your team? They first come from the overflow of the leader- both the immediate team director and their senior leaders. You can even have a dynamic team leader, but the senior leader(s) directly affect the energy, focus and emotional energies of a department.
Do you make safe for your team to disagree? Be autonomous?
Do you model and value excellence?
Do your team members have a clear idea of their roles and goals?
Is their “why” (purpose) fueling their “what” (tasks)?
Do they keep a scoreboard showing impact?
For more info on Google’s Project Aristotle, read it’s Re-Work paper here
Leaders aren’t born. They’re made.
Coach Vince Lombardi recognized the trend in high-achievers. That they worked hard, were committed, had vision and led by example. He said it best:
“Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”
But here’s the question: what happens when someone embraces the common belief that leaders are “born”instead?
This way of thinking falsely believes that:
- Leadership is now a mystical “gift” that only charismatic personality types possess
- Therefore people won’t grow to become a more effective leader…they become stuck in a “fixed” mindset
- Companies won’t invest in developing leaders because they don’t believe in it. Instead, they only focus on hiring practices to bolster leadership bench strength. But that becomes just an excuse.
But, if leaders ARE made, then leadership can be learned.
People will grow beyond their own perceived limitations.
Teams grow their own leaders. Turnover lowers. The best and brightest rise from within. And stay.
And someone chooses to become more. Because they can.
He was asked by host Charlie Rose, “What is the most important lesson you have learned in the last ten years as the CEO of GE?”
Without hesitation Jeffrey answered.
He said, “I think it’s humility and the curiosity that comes with it. In other words, the big mistakes you make are when you stop asking questions, but if you’re hungry and humble and you are always digging for that extra piece of knowledge…that’s how the world works.”
While it is somewhat fashionable for CEO’s and thought leaders to list humility in leadership as one of the most desired qualities, I think there is a kernel of truth in it.
Here are the three powerful words that sum up this type of humility : “I Don’t Know”.
Any influencer should seek to balance the “I know” – i.e. confidence in yourself, your team, your vision – with the “I don’t know”.
The “I don’t know principle”, or humility, says this:
- I could be wrong.
- What I know is not from me.
- Where I have arrived is not because of me.
- I have been given so I can give.
- I am not better than any other human being.
- I am not invincible.
- We are all stupid, but in different things.
It’s both scary in it’s authenticity and powerful because of it’s affect on others.
That type of authenticity and humility is magnetic and pulls people together. And it builds HUGE levels of trust with others.
“I don’t know.”
So take the pressure off of yourself. We don’t need to be the the smartest person in the room.
Tap into the genius of others.