By Will Brooks, Commercial Director at Zenzero Solutions.
I’m sure any manager who has inherited a team member or employed a supposed ‘top performer’ (let’s call him Harry) has been frustrated and underwhelmed by Harry’s results and lack of achievement. 20 years of successfully managing people in both the workplace and on the sports field has taught me a lot about the way that different people respond to different types of management. Wearing my heart on my sleeve, leading by example and working hard are all values and characteristics of the way I choose to lead my teams, probably because that’s the way I work best? Over the past ten years I’ve dedicated time and effort to learn more about what inspires both myself and others at the deepest levels to make me a more effective leader and my staff more successful in their given roles.
Achievement as a Leader: Achievement as a leader is seeing the people you are responsible for grow, accomplish more, or exceed their own expectations. My success will be measured by the people working with me hitting and exceeding their targets, so it’s important to regularly take time out to reflect on how well I am performing. I will routinely set aside time to contemplate if the people that work for me are better than they were last month or last quarter, and is that growth (in part) down to my leadership, direction, and support. Getting it right is without doubt an awesome feeling but getting it wrong can be a drain on the leader and the rest of the team. But why is it that great Managers can have such a constructive impact on some team members and seem unable to make a positive impact on others. The easy conclusion to draw is that Harry’s the wrong man for the job, but have we ever looked in the mirror and asked why can’t Harry work with me?
While I am sure the better you are as a leader the less often you will encounter a ‘Harry’ in your team, I don’t believe that there is a leader out there who has never had a ‘Harry’. One leaders Harry might be another leader’s Super-Star, but why? It’s not just the leader or the employee, there are other factors that need to be considered, such as environment, circumstances, situation and opportunity. By being aware can we spot patterns and therefore reduce the number of ‘Harry’s’ you need to deal with.
Look back at your own experiences of leading Super-Stars and ask yourself; “What have they all had in common?” The likelihood is you will have be drawn to attributes such as drive, commitment and passion to name just a few, but look deeper, look for the links that helped to bring the best out of you as a leader. This is not such an easy evaluation to complete because often your Super-Star is really easy to lead and to manage but never underestimate the impact that you were having on them.
Dealing with Harry: Something that I always find valuable when dealing with a Harry is to turn the tables and think back to different situations when I was performing at my best and my worst. Who was leading me, how did they make me feel and what they were doing? My guess is that when you look at the time you were performing at your best your boss empowered you, made you feel confident, set you targets that helped you grow and when they needed to they put their arm around you in support. I’ll also go as far as saying that you think that you are doing all these things for Harry, but the problem will be that you are not in the way that Harry needs you to. And it’s not because you don’t want to, it will be because you don’t understand Harry at the same level as you understand your Super-Star.
Recruitment is not only expensive it is a difficult time consuming process that is an unavoidable part of building and growing successful teams. Millions of pounds are spent on scanning CV’s for evidence of success, psychometric tests and group/team evaluations, but still we find that every so often the guy we were banking on setting the world alight turns out to be Harry. What I have learnt about being a great leader is that I can’t be a great leader for everyone, and if you are honest with yourself you will be the same. My experiences have provided me with a pool of evidence that I can look back on to identify when I have been a great leader and when I have fallen short. The answer is normally as simple as “do I understand this person at a deep enough level”.
So what do I mean when I say, did I understand the person at a deep enough level? There are lots of different elements that contribute to this, ultimately they all lead towards the same place; you live and breathe the same values, you want the same outcome and to some extent you have common interests. This does not mean that you will only be able to lead clones of yourself, but it might make you think differently about the questions you ask at interview or where you dig when trying to get Harry to become a Super-Star.
The Takeaways: Here are some ideas you may wish to try to ensure that Harry is not a management headache and you are left to enjoy the rewards of a Super-Star;
If you don’t build natural rapport at interview the chances are it will never work, no matter how good their CV or references are.
A great questions to use in interviews is “think about the best boss you ever worked for and tell me why they were so good”. Listen carefully, have they just described the leader you think you are?
If there is no obvious common ground then look harder to find it, what are the two or three things that this person is really passionate about and if you can’t find out my guess is that you are not going to be the leader they need.
Ask questions that aim to uncover what really drives the individual, and don’t rest at the first answer keep pushing a little deeper so to establish what it means to them if they don’t achieve this. As their leader you need to understand them, if they won’t open up and be honest with you it will be difficult to have a positive influence. Evidence tells me that my success as a leader is far greater with those individuals who have shared with me what is really driving them both personally and professionally.
When coaching Harry, don’t rush to look for a skills gap, instead look to establish why the fire is not burning brightly inside him. Something will be missing, most likely a lack or purpose or significance sometimes hidden as a lack of self-belief. Your job as their leader is getting ‘Harry’ to work this out for themselves.
Look at what you can change (personally as a leader and environmentally within the business) to make Harry a Super-Star. Sometimes it is the smallest change that can have the biggest impact, and often it won’t be obvious either!
At the end of the day you need to lead in the way that you would want to be lead. Follow through with this and if you have selected a great team, then results will follow, but even then from time to time the greatest leaders will still have a Harry. When you have a Harry spot it early, deal with it quickly and learn from it. Your decisive actions are important for you, they are important for Harry, for your team and the business as a whole.
Originally featured on Authenticity Rules.