The Unusual Leader (Who Helped His Team Raise Their Performance)

A different approach that produced results

Do you struggle to motivate your team? Could your team be more productive and more effective? Do you have people who are not performing to their potential? If so, then you are not alone. Like many other leaders, great and small, you are making the same mistake: assuming that the answer to these questions lies with others (your team), when in fact it lies with you (the leader).

The problem is that our normal reaction is to see this as a problem. Firstly, the way we are biologically geared to think is that we look out for potential threats and to move away from them strongly. At the same time, we are less prone to looking for the rewards or upside, and we are also naturally less likely to move towards them.

This underpins our natural tendency to be loss-averse – we would rather avoid a loss than making an equivalent gain.

Secondly, the problem is that we tend to judge ourselves by our actions and to judge others by their behavior. So, if the team is not performing we attribute the poor performance to their behavior and attitude.

Thirdly, what you focus on expands – this is important as it affects your confidence, and confidence is the number one variable affecting a person’s performance. Think about it – if a person focuses on her shortcomings, her confidence will naturally be low. Whereas if she can get herself more focused on what she is doing well, her confidence will improve, thus leading to increased ability and potential on other tasks and activities. People with high confidence are much more coachable, and they make improvements much more efficiently.

Let me share a story about a sales manager; let’s call him David, who lead a team of ten salespeople.  He was suffering a two-pronged problem: firstly, he was struggling to find ways to motivate his team and, secondly, he was receiving complaints that he wasn’t recognizing his team’s contribution (both on an individual and a collective basis) to the company.

When asked how often he was recognizing things that the individuals on his team were doing well, he responded, “Whenever they do something well, I give them positive feedback. The problem is that they don’t often do what I need them to do.” He went on to say, “If they were performing better, I would recognize it. There are still so many problems with the way they are doing things.”

Obviously there is a disconnect between the expectations of David and his team. His team feels they should be recognized more, and David feels they should be doing more to earn the recognition. The reality is that both sides are probably correct. Being correct in this situation, unfortunately, does nothing for the productivity of the team.

David is reacting like any normal, rational human by expecting that his team actually do great work to be recognized for doing great work. The problem is that promoting the maximum effectiveness of his team requires him to think abnormally. Expectancy theory states, that which you focus on expands. If David continues to do what is normal and focus on the negative, there will be more negative. However, if he can re-focus himself and his team onto what is being done well, the positive will expand.

Expectancy theory is powerful because of the role it plays on confidence. Research confirms that confidence is the number one variable affecting a person’s performance. Think about it – if a person allows his mind to focus on the shortcomings, confidence will naturally be low. Whereas if he can get himself more focused on what he is doing well, confidence will improve, thus leading to increased ability and potential on other tasks and activities. People with high confidence are much more coachable, and they make improvements much more efficiently.

“Normal” Thought Processes

People have a problem-centric approach, which is we tend to recognize the problems in a situation first. Again, this is the normal course of thought for people. When faced with good and bad aspects of a situation, the bad aspects stand out like a sore thumb, while the good are harder to identify. This comes in handy when we need to identify the speeding car plowing through a red light or the bear running at us through the trees, but when it comes to leadership, this norm can be devastating to a team’s productivity.

David sees his team as having a lot of work to do to earn more recognition. He sees where they are falling short, which, in his mind, does not warrant much positive feedback. In his mind, the focus of his team needs to be on where they should be making improvements. He naturally sees and focuses on what is not working well.

“Abnormal” Thought Processes

In the case of Davidhe started making a conscious effort to recognize at least one “done-well” for a member of his team every day. Instead of waiting for something to stand out to him, he would need to put in the effort to look for it in order to reach his daily quota. At first he was reluctant because he felt that he would be “celebrating mediocrity,” but what he found was that his team started to gradually perform better and better. Eventually, they were doing things that David actually found worthy of recognizing. It became easier for him to find things to celebrate.

Set a reminder either in your phone or in your calendar to recognize one “done-well” per day. It is important to schedule these recognitions because, again, they will not come naturally to you. It is abnormal to have a constant radar for “what is working well” because your radar is naturally set to “what is not working well.” It will take conscious effort to overcome this tendency. Your team will feel valued, and their work will start to reflect this.

A focus on what people are doing well results in people doing even more things well. This is a snowball effect that great leaders absolutely use to their advantage.

We grow best by building on our strengths, not by constantly trying to correct our “weaknesses.” That’s the essence of positive psychology. Yet the overwhelming feedback we receive – even when solicited – is about correcting some failing. Often we take the feedback to heart, and we spend a lot of time and effort trying to figure where we went wrong. But should we? Do you really have a problem?

So what can we learn from this?  There are three things.  Firstly, good performance by a leader requires good performance by the team; however, the reverse – good team performance means you have a good leader – is not necessarily true.Secondly, a leader cannot motivate anyone else but himself or herself. All the leader can do is create an environment in which people can easily motivate and align themselves in achieving the goals. Finally, the more time we spend trying to get our team to “correct” what we deem inadequate, the less time they have to invest in exploiting their own significant potential.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here.

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

Leave a Reply