Secret #1: Great leaders spend more time on their people and their people decisions than anything else.
So, what happens when they find themselves working with crappy people?
Secret #2: Great leaders don’t see crappy people.
Leadership is looking for the greatness in people. When someone makes a mistake, they can often feel like there is no way to recover, no way to be anything else in the eyes of those around them, especially leadership. If this thought process is allowed to continue unchallenged, it results in wasted greatness. That is not to say that great leaders don't let people go. But, they do try to tap into someone’s greatness before letting go.
Consider Anna, a coaching client who was struggling with someone on her team. Ray had been at the company for years and when Anna joined as a new manager, she discovered that Ray was only given the easy and relatively unimportant projects. His completion rate was significantly lower than the rest of the team, and he regularly made simple errors that someone else went back and corrected. Not wanting to mark her first month by letting go of one of the most tenured employees, a beloved one at that, Anna felt trapped. She was just starting to build trust within her team and she was getting pressure from her leadership to increase productivity. Letting Ray go was the fastest way to get results for her managers, but would break the tenuous sense of team she was just starting to create with her people. In a burst of frustration, she asked “Why Doesn’t He [Ray] Care?!?!?” This shift of energy was exactly what she needed. What might happen if she actually became curious about Ray and started asking powerful questions?
Powerful Questions: Get really really curious Have nothing to do with your own ideas or opinions Create space for new possibilities Do not pass judgement
Spoiler Alert: Ray did end of up leaving the company, 4 years later, when he retired. This was after leading their department in completions for 10 straight quarters. No one needed to fix is his work, and he became an integral part of supporting Anna as she took her group from a manager-employee dynamic to a high performing team where everyone felt accountable to their success. Achieving that level of productivity and effectiveness took a lot more than just working with Ray. But, Anna’s decision to look for and expect something more from Ray than his previous crappy performance demonstrated exactly what kind of leader she wanted to be for her team and what they could expect from her.
Secret #3: Great leadership is about getting the right people in the right places and then helping them thrive.
Remember when I said that believing there are no crappy people does not mean that leaders will never have to let someone go? Encouraging and supporting someone to find their right place to thrive is just as important as trying to keep good people.
Secret #4: Sometimes, it can feel crappy.
Great leaders know they will not always help an employee turn around. They will not always hit that target. That is the nature of leading: you keep doing it, even when it is not perfect.
**The “Anna” story is real, although the names have been changed. And, while I am not Ray, 20 years ago, I was a version of him and will forever be grateful for the great leader who got really curious and expected so much more from me.