How did we end up like this? From high-performer, disengaged. What to change as a leader to avoid it next time
The route of a high-performer executive in a company is similar to that of a personal relationship. At first, we get excited about this person’s traits. The dynamic personality, the ability to take initiatives, his autonomy, which can sometimes reach the limits of a rebel. These are what lead us to the ardent desire to conquer him. At the same time, however, the intention to adjust these characteristics, once the relationship is tied, to that level, where we will not feel insecure that we cannot control him, but also that we will not be in his shadow and we are not in danger of him seeming more adequate than us, is hidden at the back of our mind.
Costas is a high-level Sales Executive. 3 years ago, he joined the team of a multinational company. His decision to do so, came after the great interest shown then by his manager to have him in his team. He told him: “You are just the right person for the right place. Dynamic, ambitious, flexible, autonomous and of course you know how to chase goals. ” Thus, Costas actually joined the company in order to be himself.
As the time went by, things began to change. His dynamism began to bother him and was considered as being disrespectful. His ambition for professional development was interpreted as selfishness. His flexibility to be a reason for reprimand because, regardless of the fact that he would reach his goals and skyrocket the sales of his area of responsibility, he would not take the steps to get there as his manager would have done if he had been in his position. His autonomy in solving problems was annoying and there would always be some “significant flaw” in the eyes of his manager, which would devalue the positive result of the solution he would find.
Thus, from being a high-performer executive, Costas ended up feeling a disengaged employee executing directions and orders, drowned in the micromanagement attitude of his manager. When he finally decided to leave, he told his boss: “It seems that you want someone else, who is not me. I quit in order to find myself again. ” And at this point, what could perfectly fit playing in the background like in the movies, is the song Fairytale Gone Bad, by Marcus Layton saying: “… the plans we had all gone wrong, we ain’t nothing but fight and shout and tears, we got to a point I can’t stand…»
If somewhere in this story, you also see yourself in the position of director, and before you rush to justify that the same thing that happened to you too is due to the fact that your high-performer grew an arrogant attitude, focus on your own behavior, so that next time you do not have the same ending. Specifically, pay attention to the following 3 points:
- Acknowledging that for a position, like the one described, the above soft skills are necessary, make an honest assessment of yourself. From 1 (not at all) to 10 (absolutely) how much can you stand to have such a member in your team? If your score is closer to 1, then see what you need to do to feel confident and safe and let your partner use those skills that make him a high-performer. The issue is yours. Recognize your fears and insecurities and work on them, in order for you to act as a real leader, but also not to hold your team back.
- Have an honest discussion with the prospect member of your team from the beginning of the collaboration. Define what autonomy, flexibility, etc. means for team, but also what your expectations might be or what might bother you in your collaboration. It is better to see from the beginning of your professional relationship if you look in the same direction, than sooner or later you two go separate ways, because of different expectations and definitions of those behaviors.
- Tame your “If I were in his position, I would do it like this …” way of thinking. You are not in his position; you are in yours! So, leave the space to your executive to be himself and don’t let your desire to to turn him into a copy of your you guide you by practicing micromanagement.
To avoid see history repeating itself and all its negative effects following, work with yourself. Most of the times what bothers us in others has nothing to do with them, but with ourselves. Recognize your negative beliefs, fears and insecurities that push you to turn a remarkable high-potential partner into something you can control. Decide to overcome them, to build a strong team, as you dream it, when your fears do not take the helm. Acknowledging our weaknesses and deciding to do something about them is strength!