Thursday, July 29, 2010

10 Reasons to go on a Vacation

Guest post by Patty Azzarello:

As it is the summer, I thought I would share 10 of the many sound business reasons to go on vacation — in addition to the fact that you deserve it and are supposed to enjoy your life and have some fun…

1. Going on a vacation shows you are competent at your job because you can manage and plan enough to free up some time in your schedule, and not leave a festering mess in your absence. Not being able to take a vacation for years shows that your work and your team are so out of control that you can’t even be gone for a week.

2. No one is impressed that you have not had a vacation If you think your company, or your team appreciates your extra-work ethic, they don’t.

3. Your team is motivated from seeing that you support and allow people to have a life — as long as you don’t send them email every day! Set the expectation you will be generally out of touch. Arrange 1-2 check-in points if you can’t stand to let go entirely, but don’t just go somewhere else and keep working.

4. Your team gets more productive when you go away. You give them a break from worrying about all the things you throw in their way when they are trying to get their work done. After about 2 weeks they will miss you and need you again, but in the mean time their productivity will actually go up.

5. Being unavailable is an effective technique for developing people. It forces them to step up. Just be careful not to un-do everything they did in your absence just because it was different than the way you would have done it.

6. If something comes up in your work that you can’t avoid and you need to cancel your vacation, reschedule another one while you are canceling. This will minimize resentment and disappointment, give you something to look forward to… and ensure you don’t go too long without a vacation.

7. You will be more productive at work, if you step away from it and give your back-of-mind processes a chance to chew on things while you are otherwise in a good (or at least different!) mood.

8. You will realize that some of the things that you thought were important before your vacation don’t actually need to get done after all. When you step away, the most strategic things re-assert themselves and all the clutter drops several notches in volume.

9. Your company prefers people who enjoy their life because they have more positive energy to bring to their work.

10. You need a break whether you know it or not!

Patty Azzarello became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33. She ran a $1B software business at the age of 35 and became a CEO for the first time at the age of 39. Patty has held leadership roles in General Management, Marketing, Software Product Development and Sales, and has been successful in running large and small businesses.

Patty is the founder and CEO of Azzarello Group, that works with companies to execute their strategy, and develop their top talent.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Leadership Development: Executive Self-Assessment

What’s the #1 differentiator between companies that excel at succession planning and leadership development and those that simply “go through the motions”?

It’s the ownership and commitment of the senior executive team. They believe in its strategic importance and treat it as a high priority. Without this, the typical reaction from every manager is likely to be “What’s the point? We go through the motions every year filling these forms out and nothing happens.”

It not only becomes a demoralizing administrative time-waster, but when leadership positions need to be filled, we’re frustrated with the lack of qualified candidates. Of course, there’s also the frustration of our high potentials regarding lack of feedback, coaching, development opportunities, and any meaningful interest and involvement from their managers.

The message is clear (pick one):

1. Your development is not important to me; it’s not worth the expense or time.

2. I don’t think you have the capacity to grow and change so why bother.

3. You’re a manager – suck it up- you’re on your own when it comes to development.

This lack of commitment and involvement then cascades down and throughout the organization. While there may be pockets of excellence, these overall message is pretty clear – it’s not important, just a “nice-to-do”.

However, with commitment from the top, even the most incompetent HR department couldn’t possibly screw it up. Without it, all of the best process, systems, forms, and programs will have little impact.

If you believe in the importance of getting our next generation of leaders ready to take the helm, then are you ready to take a hard look at your own level of commitment and do what it takes to really make a difference? Take the following executive self-assessment to find your opportunities to improve (or send it to your favorite senior executive).

Rating scale: 5=always, 4=usually, 3=sometimes, 2= rarely, 1=never

1. When it comes to leadership development, I “practice what I preach”. I openly discuss my development needs and actions I’m taking to improve.
According to Marshall Goldsmith: “When the senior leader acts like a little god and tells everyone else to improve, this behavior can be copied at every level of management. Every level then points out how the level below it needs to change. The end result: No one gets much better.”

2. I have regular (at least quarterly) conversations with my direct reports about their development. These discussions can include developmental feedback, coaching, or development planning… anything but “the numbers”.

3. My development discussions include both improvements in the current role as well as preparation for future roles.

4. I spend a significant amount of my time coaching, mentoring, providing feedback, and teaching high potential leaders (other than my direct reports). Note: look at your Outlook calendar over the last quarter to verify your assessment.

5. I spend time on a regular basis (at least yearly) with my leadership team assessing talent. This includes reviewing the performance and potential of our direct report managers as well as the identification of emerging high potential leaders.

6. I recognize and reward, and hold my direct reports accountable for the identification and development of high potential talent in their own organizations.

7. When I have a management opening, I’m willing to consider “unlikely” candidates from outside my organization, for the purpose of providing a cross-functional development opportunity.

8. I’m willing to let go of one of my best performers in order to prepare them for a larger leadership role.

9. I regularly have talent discussions with my peers. We take “shared ownership” for the development of leaders, rather than operate in self-serving silos.

10. When I’m traveling, I make sure to schedule time and meet with high potential talent.

11. I use consistent and valid criteria when I assess the performance and potential of my managers (and they are all aware of this criteria).

12. I take action to identify and remove underperformers that are blocking the development and movement of our high potentials.

13. I’m actively involved in company leadership development programs (sponsorship, guest speaker, panel discussions, etc….

Scoring key:
45-65: Congratulations, you’re a leadership development machine!! You’re developing leadership strength for today and for the future. You rock!

30-45: You’re doing some things well, but it’s not enough. Pick 2-3 items to improve and get to work.

0-30: Wassa matta wit you? Well, at least you care enough to take the assessment. It’s never too late to change, but you need to get started today. Read Great Leadership to learn how to get started and good luck!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Defensive Driving for Leaders: Watch Out for Your Blind Spots

You’re driving down the highway and need to make a lane change into the left lane. You glance at your rear view mirror, side view mirror and look to your left. All is clear, so you put your turn single on, begin to make the change, and all of a sudden, you hear a horn blow. You turn again to the left, and realize you almost just sideswiped a car while traveling 75 miles per hour. Your heart stops for a moment – it feels like when you’re leaning back in a chair and you lose your balance, and catch yourself before you fall over backwards.

If you’ve been driving for a while, no doubt this has happened to you. There’s a zone in the road – big enough for a car, even an eighteen wheeler, depending on your car – that your rear and side view mirrors don’t pick up. It’s called a blind spot, and if you’re not careful (use your turn single, turn around, gradual lane changes), they can kill you and others.

Leaders can have blind spots too. A leadership blind spot is some kind of behavior that a leader can’t see, but it exists for everyone else to see. See “Johari Window” diagram below.

While leadership blind spots may not be as fatal as a driving blind spot, if never discovered and unaddressed, they can turn into career killers, and wreck havoc on those around them.

Everyone has blind spots. Here’s a trick question: “What are yours?”

Answer: “If you knew what they were, then they’re not blind spots.”

I’ll bet this is starting to sound like “The Matrix”, or “Inception” (an awesome movie, btw). Yes, this blind spot business can be tricky.

Discovering your leadership blind spots is the same as bringing your driving blind spots into view – you need to look in multiple mirrors and get input from all sides.

Here are some ways to uncover your blind spots:

1. Take a 360 leadership assessment. 360 assessments will give you written feedback on key leadership behaviors from your manager, peers, employees, and others. Try LPI Online for an relatively inexpensive option that requires no certification or debrief, or any CCL assessment. PDI, Lominger, and DDI also all have excellent products.

2. Take some kind of validated, reliable behavioral assessment that helps uncover potential behavioral issues. Try DISC, MBTI Complete, Hogan's HPI/HDS, or The Workplace Big 5. For any of these, it’s better to have someone who is familiar with the assessments to help you make sense of them. 

3. Engage a coach. Most coaches will use their own favorite assessments, as well as conduct stakeholder interviews.

4. Ask for feedback – from your manager, employees, peers, etc… just make sure you’re ready to listen non-defensively. Giving feedback, even when asked, if difficult for many people. The way you ask and respond will influence the accuracy of the feedback.

Whatever method you use, just be prepared for that “jolt” (that feeling of leaning backwards in the chair…) of awareness. Finding out we are not seen as we see ourselves can be pretty unsettling.

Awareness is the first step in fixing blind spots, and often the most difficult. Then comes ownership, learning what to do differently (APBs, or alternative positive behaviors), and finally, lot’s practice to “cement” the new behaviors.

Stay tuned for our next defensive driving lesson for leaders: “Don’t be checking your smart phone during your 1 on 1s”. (-:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Make Sure You “Hug” Your Top Performers During Times of Change

I’ve been writing a lot about high potential, high performing employees lately. Although some hate the use of labels, I’ve referred to these employees as “hipos”, “A players”, and even “self-licking lollipops” (ugh!).

A lot of managers make the mistake of thinking that during times of change, their top performers would be the least likely to need reassurance. That’s a major mistake, and could lead to turnover of your most valuable people when you need them the most.

What are some of the major changes that can make your top performers jittery? Certainly layoffs would be the obvious choice, but they could also include mergers, acquisitions, a change in CEO or manager, a new job or responsibility, a change in process, or any change that could have someone wonder where they stand.

Why in the world would a high performer have anything to worry about? Let’s say a 10% reduction in force is announced. That means 9 out of 10 employees will not be affected. Not a problem, right? Very wrong.

First of all, we can’t assume employees know where they stand when it comes to how their performance is perceived. In study after study, high performers rate themselves lower than others rate them, and low performers rate themselves higher. Low performers can’t recognize their own incompetence, probably because they don’t know what it looks like and have never performed at a high level. High performers, on the other hand, are harder on themselves and have higher expectations of themselves.

While this may not be true in jobs like sales or sports, where public performance stack ranking is commonplace, in most jobs, there’s no visible scorecard that tells us where we stand.

As managers, we often take our high performers for granted. Again, we assume they know they are good – and don’t need to be told. In fact, a lot of managers seem to feel it’s their job to keep their high performers humble and grounded – "so they don’t get too full of themselves" – and end up being overly critical and stingy with the praise (I've often wondered if this is really insecurity on the part of the manager).

To make matters worse – managers often are told by HR that when if an employee is identified in a succession planning process as high potential, they are not allowed to tell them. They take that to the extreme – and it makes them gun shy about saying anything encouraging to the employee.

I also know there are companies that train their managers that when a layoff is announced, they are not allowed to give their high performers any kind of assurance (and most probably do anyway). Again, its risk management to the extreme. The thinking is “well, you never know”. You can’t say anything until you go through the formal ranking and selection process, and all notifications are given at the same time.

All of these factors add up to a perfect storm of high performer insecurity – and the possibility that your best people could bolt. It’s way too late to offer reassurance during an exit interview.

So what’s a manager to do? How about retention or “stay-on” bonuses? Personally, I think they are a waste of money. They can even be perceived as a bribe, and insulting.

What your top performers really need to hear during times of chance is that they are valued. Let them know how good their performance is, how they are perceived by others, and what a promising future they have with your company.

One of the major reason employees are looking to leave their present employer is a perceived lack of career growth and development (often blocked by a lousy manager). Talk to them about their career and development goals, and make sure you regularly review their individual development plan.

During times of change, we’re told as leaders we need to get out and be visible and over communicate. While that’s true, we especially need to make sure we are meeting with our high performers individually and asking them if they have questions, concerns, and how they are reacting to the change. You need to read between the lines and pay attention to the subtle clues that the employee needs reassurance.

Let them know that you need their support. If possible, get them involved in the change – or at least solicit their input and ideas.

That’s all it sometimes takes – maybe 10 minutes of your time as a manager. A little praise, a little listening, little reassurance – and maybe a hug (metaphorically of course).

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Managing the “Toxic High Performer”

In a recent post, I was surprised by the number of SmartBrief leaders (11.74%) that chose “The high performer who is rapidly rising” as their most challenging team member to lead.

My response was “really?!”

Yes, it can be somewhat challenging to keep a high performer challenged and motivated, but come on, that’s the fun part of leadership. When you have an employee that handles every challenge you throw at them, is thirsty for development, and consistently exceeds your expectations, that’s leadership nirvana. I once heard these employees described as “self licking lollypops”.

Give me a team of “A” players ANY day, and I’ll gladly accept those “challenges”.

Yes, true “hipos” tend not to stay in one place for a long time – they get “pulled” into larger and better roles – but so be it. I’d rather have 1-2 years of outstanding performance from one of these “A” players than a team of average performers or slackers and no turnover.

I also pointed out that true hipos tend NOT to be arrogant, have over-inflated egos, or irritate their team members. If they did, than I wouldn’t consider them to have high potential.

A few of my readers were not quite satisfied with that response. Here’s a comment from Tim that sums them up pretty well:

“I agree that this is not a description of a true "great performer," there are people who individually do a great job of meeting their own objectives, but simultaneously hurt others. Maybe it's a sales guy who has great numbers but is abusive to others on the team, or the brilliant engineer who won't get behind any product development idea that isn't his own. Perhaps we can title this character the "Toxic high performer." I believe that this situation presents a significant leadership challenge - I'd also be interested in hearing your thoughts on this.”

OK, so for the purpose of this discussion, we’ll use the term “toxic high performer”. I’ll expand on Tim’s examples:

 A rainmaker salesperson that won’t refer to his/her sales partners, won’t submit paperwork, won’t train or mentor, and causes problems for customer service

 The technically brilliant scientist or engineer, who owns stacks of patents, but can’t or won’t collaborate as a part of a team

 The plant or branch manager that consistently meets or exceeds his/her performance goals, but cuts ethical corners and employees can’t stand working for them

 The trainer with the advanced degree and 20 years experience, who can design cutting edge, state of the art programs, but causes friction on a team and is always complaining about the company, coworkers, and management.

Do these people sound familiar? They sure do to me. Folks, I really do get it – it’s just that I refuse to accept the premise that these employees are “top performers”, at least not by my definition, and I blame a lack of leadership for allowing them to get that way.

I think we first need to define what’s meant by “performance”. It’s not just hitting or exceeding your performance goals. It’s also the behaviors or values used to reach those goals. For a manager, it would things like integrity, respect for others, collaboration, teamwork, and developing others. For the salesperson it would be partnering, teamwork, referrals, administrative excellence, and after-sale customer satisfaction.

When Jack Welch ran GE, he held his managers accountable for results AND values, and was willing to discipline or fire a manager that was making their numbers but doing it in a way that didn’t adhere to GE values.

A lot of companies develop and publish lists of values, competency models, and behavioral expectations, but few will hold “high performers” accountable to them.

I’ve seen performance management systems that put a weight on both – sometimes it’s 80/20, 60/40, or even 50/50. Yes, it’s harder to measure and assess behaviors – but even attempting to get it right at least sets the expectation that both are important.

There are other ways to cut your high performers some slack other than lowering behavioral expectations, and I think smart leaders know how to do this. They give them more flexibility in their schedules, more latitude in how they get the job done, more say in policy and strategy development, and the freedom to stay from rigid processes and rules that were probably designed to prevent poor performance (which shouldn't be an issue with your high performer, so they've earned a free pass).

However – when a leader turns their back on a high performer’s “toxic” behaviors – then they are getting exactly what they expect and deserve. Everyone else will soon catch on that the values plaque on the wall is worthless, and all that really matters is results.

When that happens, then yes leaders, you will have a BIG challenge to deal with.

One more thing - what if you've inherited someone else's prima donna? It needs to be handled the same way as any other performance program that was ignored by a previous manager. You'll need to establish new expectations and hold the employee accountable.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Beware of the Dark Side of Leadership: 11 Tragic Flaw Behaviors

Many leaders have what Aristotle would have called a “tragic flaw”. Othello's jealousy and Hamlet's failure to act are two well known literary examples. This weak spot that can lead to a leader’s downfall is often one of the leader’s greatest strengths, which when stressed and overused, turns into destructive behavior.

I’ve always believed that most, if not all, leadership behavioral problems are a result of strengths that are over-used. I see it over and over when I review 360 assessments with managers. I can usually connect low scores for a problem behavior back to 1-2 high scores for overused skills. It’s one of the reasons I’m so concerned about the potential for misunderstanding and misuse of the whole “strength-based” leadership development movement. Only developing your strengths and not your weaknesses is a surefire recipe for leadership derailment.

I’ve recently been looking into leadership assessments and am intrigued by the Hogan Development Survey (HDS) assessment. There are a lot of leadership assessments out there. Being a leadership development geek forces me to take a lot of them, more than any normal human being should have to endure.

The thing that makes this assessment so interesting is that it measures the behavioral tendencies that if overused have proven to lead to leadership failure. Hogan refers to them as “the dark side” of leadership. It’s based on years of research and has been extensively normed and validated.

Have you ever been told by someone that you’re “enthusiastic”? They may be telling you you’re too volatile. Or perhaps someone told you they admired your "confidence"? Perhaps a bit of arrogance has seeped out as well.
Unfortunately, sensitive behavioral feedback is often disguised as positive traits gone bad. That's why reading between the lines of performance reviews or references is such an art. My favorite has always been "has very high standards of others". Translation: "is always ticked off about coworkers".

See the full Hogan HDS list below.

Again, these characteristics on the left can all serve us well - in moderation- just don’t get too carrier away with any of them, or your dark side just may show up and bite you in the rear.

1. Excitable: moody, easily annoyed, hard to please, and emotionally volatile

2. Skeptical: distrustful, cynical, sensitive to criticism, and focused on the negative

3. Cautious: unassertive, resistant to change, risk-averse, and slow to make decisions

4. Reserved: aloof, indifferent to the feelings of others, and uncommunicative

5. Leisurely: overtly cooperative, but privately irritable, stubborn, and uncooperative

6. Bold: overly self-confident, arrogant, with inflated feelings of self-worth

7. Mischievous: charming, risk-taking, limit-testing and excitement-seeking

8. Colorful: dramatic, attention-seeking, interruptive, and poor listening skills

9. Imaginative: creative, but thinking and acting in unusual or eccentric ways

10. Diligent: meticulous, precise, hard to please, and tends to micromanage

11. Dutiful: eager to please and reluctant to act independently or against popular opinion

I’m sure there must be more. Can you think of other strengths that when overused, can flip to the dark side and turn into a "tragic flaw"?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The 4th of July Leadership Development Carnival

Happy 4th of July to all! What a spectacular summer weekend. And here it is, just in time to get out of the hot sun and read some cool leadership development posts. 36 total for this month - enjoy!

Over at The People Equation, Jennifer V. Miller advocates for “management by asking” in her post “Socrates Was On to Something”:

Wally Bock presents Once Upon a Time posted at Three Star Leadership Blog. " Lots of things have changed since I started in business. But the most important thing has stayed the same."

Learn how to get the most out of blogs, books, seminars and other resources, whether the subject is management, leadership or any other self-improvement effort, the process for using the information is the same. Miki Saxon presents How to Improve Your Management Skill at MAPping Company Success.

Managers can't let fear rule their decision making - Sharlyn Lauby presents Handling Workplace Retaliation posted at HR Bartender.

Mary Jo Asmus presents 7 Ways to Enjoy Others at Work posted at Aspire-CS.

Jane Perdue presents A Lobby Display of True Leader Colors posted at Get Your Leadership BIG On!.

If you want to really understand your culture, take time to understand the underlying rules: spoken and unspoken. Steve Roesler presents Want to Influence? Know the Norms posted at All Things Workplace.

Mark Stelzner presents SHRM 2010: Observations & Conclusions posted at Inflexion Point.

Alice Snell presents Public Sector Hiring Reform posted at Taleo Blog - Talent Management Solutions.

Art Petty presents Leadership Caffeine: Prepare Your Mind to Conquer Presentation Anxiety posted at Management Excellence.

Kevin W. Grossman presents Valuing meaningful work always plays better to the bottom line. posted at Blog.

Nothing is more inspiring than a noble purpose. Do you see your work as a "job" or a mission? You will be surprised how easy it is to make your purpose special. Mike Henry Sr. presents Inspiring Purpose posted at Lead Change Group.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has built an amazing culture. Most of us can learn a lot from what he did and how he did it. But there is one lesson we should NOT learn from Zappos. Anne Perschel presents What NOT to Learn from Zappos posted at Germane Insights.

Leaders make many decisions each day. What factors do you consider when making decisions? Becky Robinson presents Factors in Decision Making posted at Mountain State University LeaderTalk.

7 useful tips to take leadership repertoire to the next level: Utpal Vaishnav presents How To Caffeinate Your Leadership Repertoire? posted at Utpal Writes.

A fun post - a poem that links how we work with what we are seeing in the World Cup Football matches. David Zinger presents Working Zingers: Work as the World Cup posted at David Zinger Employee Engagement.

There is always friction between a unit and its higher headquarters, no matter the organization. In "Those Idiots Up At HQ," Leader Business examines the firing of General McChrystal from a personal perspective. Tom Magness presents Those Idiots Up At HQ posted at Leader Business.

NY Times best selling author, Chuck Martin, shares his Management Tip, Play to your strengths, in this ten minute podcast. Nick McCormick presents Play to People?s Strengths posted at Joe and Wanda on Management.

With leadership development being defined and implemented differently from business to business, it is often difficult to find or create measurement around LDP programs. In this post I describe 7 approached to measure the leadership programs you create. Benjamin McCall presents Metrics of Leadership: 7 measurements for Leadership Development, at REThink HR.

This post links together England's demise in the World Cup, Boris Groysberg's new book on talent and performance, and whether what applies (may apply) in football / soccer applies in business too. Jon Ingham presents Chasing Stars and Socialism at Social Advantage.

Highlights an eye-opening study which finds that Talent Management systems are gender-biased and talk about what to do about it. Meg Bear presents Are your leadership competencies gender biased? posted at TalentedApps.

The ultimate motivations comes from knowing who we are and courageously acting upon that knowledge. What will you do in your "moment of truth"? Janna Rust presents Purposeful Leadership: Your Moment of Truth: What Will You Choose? posted at Purposeful Leadership.

Laura Schroeder presents Is Attrition a Key Component of Retention? posted at Working Girl.

Anna Farmery presents The Life Cycle of Thinking posted at The Engaging Brand.

Many managers don't trust that their systems hire and keep people that will make good decisions. They "solve" this problem by giving staff no authority, which isn't a solution. John Hunter presents Trust Your Staff to Make Decisions posted at Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog.

Research from i4cp/AMA reveal four key practices all companies should follow when developing global leaders. Erik Samdahl presents Four Key Practices for Developing Global Leaders posted at Productivity Blog.

Michael Lee Stallard presents The Need to Respect Legitimate Authority and One's Colleagues posted at Michael Lee Stallard.

Nissim Ziv presents Problem Solving Interview posted at Job Interview & Career Guide.

There are lessons we can all learn from General Stanley McChrystal's recent resignation. Sometimes choosing our words wisely is more important than sharing opinions. Kathy C presents Lessons Learned from General Stanley McChrystal posted at The Thriving Small Business.

Wise Bread presents Freedom From the Day Job posted at Wisebread.

This post speaks of reducing the clutter in Leadership and Learning & keeping things simple. Dominic Rajesh presents Clutter-free Learning and Leadership posted at Dom's Blog ....

Bob Lieberman presents Gas! posted at Cultivating Creativity – Leadership Development for the Creative Economy.

Eliminating negative has a greater impact than accentuated positive. The challenge is to eliminate the negative in a way that does not create more negative. Michael Cardus presents Eliminating Negative to Increase Positive posted at Create-Learning Team Building & Leadership Blog.

Friso presents An introduction to Corporate Performance Management | Everyone can manage posted at Everyone can Manage.

This post talks about how to manage others successfully in a nonprofit setting. But it can be applied to any business. Mazarine presents Wild Woman Fundraising Advanced Fundraising: Managing Others posted at Wild Woman Fundraising.

Bauhinia Solutions presents The Benefits of Coaching posted at Bauhinia Solutions.

That’s it for this month’s edition.

Jason Seiden is hosting the next one - August 1st – over at Fail Spectacularly.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Which Kind of Team Member is the Most Challenging to Lead? (and what to do about it)

SmartBrief on Leadership recently posed an interesting "SmartPulse" question to its readers:

“Which kind of team member is the most challenging to lead?"

Here's the results (along with some advice from consultant Mike Figliuolo):

1. The poor performer who brings others around them down: 45.49%

2. The solid contributor who lacks motivation to grow: 24.28%

3. The poor performer who genuinely wants to improve but can't seem to do so: 18.49%

4. The high performer who is rapidly rising: 11.74%

"Three-quarters of you indicate the most challenging folks are those who lack motivation. Here's my challenge to you as leaders: It's YOUR job as their leader to create that motivation. Your task is to find that which deeply inspires and challenges them and unleash it. Get to know their deepest desires and figure out how to link their work to the achievement of those personal goals. I hate to say it, but the motivation that's lacking in these hard-to-lead folks points to the heart of what leadership is: inspiring others to do great work because they want to." --Mike Figliuolo, managing director of ThoughtLEADERS LLC

I feel like the poll results leaves leaders hanging, as it begs the question (to me at least) – “OK, so what?”

I’d like to offer SmartBrief readers a little more advice on how to lead these four team members:

1. The poor performer who brings others around them down: 45.49%
I can understand why 64% of readers picked dealing with poor performers as their biggest leadership challenge. Raising individuals and team performance from poor to acceptable or from good to great is indeed the essence of great leadership.

With all due respect to Mike (and I have a lot), ALL poor performers are not the result of a leader’s inability to motivate. No matter how hard you try, you’re never going to motivate a pig to fly. You’re only going to waste a lot of time and energy (at the expense of your solid and high performers), and you’ll probably just frustrate and irritate the pig as well.

There will be times when a leader, after having tried all other options (appealing to someone’s internal motivation, incentives, punishment, training, coaching, clarifying expectation, etc, etc, etc,) just needs to make the tough call. Firing a poor performer is gut-wrenching and hard. That’s one of the reasons management is not for everyone.

However, inaction or dragging out a situation will only prolong the pain of the poor performer. And yes, if a team has the perception that a manager is oblivious or not concerned about poor performance, it can drag down the performance of the rest of the team.

One of the biggest mistakes new leaders make is thinking they can turn around every team member they inherit. Most of them will tell you in retrospect, they took way too long to take action. 90 days is usually long enough to asses a team and determine who belongs on the bus.

My advice: If you have a poor performer that’s dragging down the performance of your entire team, get with your HR rep ASAP. Follow an accelerated progressive discipline process. Be fair, consistent, and respectful, and you shouldn’t have any regrets.

2. The poor performer who genuinely wants to improve but can't seem to do so: 18.49%
I'm taking these out of order because this scenario is similar to the first one, in that they both are about dealing with a poor performer. However, not all poor performers should be treated the same.An employee that’s underperforming BUT has tenure, a great attitude, gets along well with co-workers, and is really trying their hardest deserves more attention, more training and coaching, and a little more time to improve. However, at the end of the day, it’s still all about performance and meeting the expectations of the job. The days of creating busy work and watering down jobs to accommodate “nice” but incapable employees ended sometime back in the 1980s.

As a manager, I’ve found these scenarios to the most difficult, but, they can have a happy ending. It’s often possible to find another role, either internal or external, that may be a better fit for the employee’s strengths. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting passing off a poor performer to some unsuspecting manager. It’s about truly finding a legitimate better fit for a good employee.

Again, work with your HR rep, however, instead of heading down a just a disciplinary path, try to find an alternate path for the employee in the form of another role.

3. The solid contributor who lacks motivation to grow: 24.28%
This one’s actually not a bad leadership challenge. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with solid contributors. Those “B players” are the lifeblood of most organizations – we need them and should figure out ways to thank them, motivate them, hug them, and retain them every day.

After all, not everyone wants to move up or get promoted. Some people love what they do and don’t want to do anything else – they’ve found career nirvana.

However – if “lacks motivation to grow” was interpreted as “doesn’t want to keep their skills up to date” – then THAT’S a problem. They may be a solid contributor today – but if they don’t have the desire to continuously stay current in their field and build the skills needed to compete, they’ll soon no longer be a solid performer. Sometimes, a manager needs to have the tough conversation and spell this out to an employee. If not, you’re doing that employee an enormous disservice and setting them up for failure.

4. The high performer who is rapidly rising.
11.74% say leading this kind of team member as their biggest challenge?! REALLY?!

Maybe there’s a stereotype that a high flyer is spoiled, demanding, overly ambitious, etc… While that may be true for some (and I would argue that if it is, that’s not really a high performer), the majority of successful, high potential employees are the most rewarding to lead.

I sometimes find that insecure managers might find it challenging – because they feel threatened – but that’s not the norm.

For the most part, leading a high flyer is one of the most rewarding aspects of leadership. It’s fun to challenge, stretch, coach, mentor, and learn from them. For more on leading high potentials, read this and this.

How about you? Who are your most challenging employees to lead?