3 Reasons Your Team Is Underperforming
A version of this article first appeared at Inc.com.
I hear it all the time: “My people just don’t perform at the level I expect“; “I’m not getting the creativity and innovation from them that I need“; “Why am I the one who always has to come up with all the bright ideas around here?“
Leaders disappointed at what they’re getting from their team–and frustrated at having to take up the slack when it comes to brilliance and creativity.
Here’s the rub. In many cases, the reason why their team isn’t performing at the highest level lies with the leader themselves. Having hired perfectly competent people, many business leaders then proceed to instill a sense of learned helplessness in those self-same employees by creating an environment where it’s difficult (if not impossible) for them to perform at a high level.
If you’re wondering why your seemingly great new hires so frequently underperform, try changing the environment in these three ways:
The number one reason your people aren’t achieving great things? You aren’t letting them.
Not that you’re actively preventing them from excelling, of course–at least not in the physical, getting-in-their-way sense–but your refusal to truly delegate to others produces the exact same outcome as locking your best people in a darkened room and throwing away the key.
When you secretly believe that “no-one else can do this as well as I can”; when you hand off only a small part of an important task and micromanage even that; when you’re impelled to show everyone that you’re better than they are (even at their own jobs)–whatever justification you have for not trusting others with important tasks, you’re effectively placing a cap on your team’s ability to learn and get better at what they do.
Here’s a simple test: When was the last time you gave up a genuinely important task to someone else–literally stopped doing it yourself? If it was more than six months ago (or worse, you can’t remember ever doing so) then the problem with your team’s abilities likely rests with you, not them.
The second step in releasing the untapped abilities of your team is to stop imagining that brilliance spontaneously combusts. It does, occasionally, but if you depend on serendipity alone to turn your team into a hotbed of creativity, you’ll wait a long time.
Anthony Trollope, the great British writer, was once asked if he could write only when the muse moved him. His reply? “Yes, and thank goodness the muse descends every morning at 9 am.“
Most leaders I work with expect (and plan for) the mundane. Their calendars affirm it–their calls, check ins, operational meetings, performance assessments–all are shrouded in an expectation that their content will be “maintenance” at best, if not an outright autopsy on failure.
Plan for brilliance. Set specific meetings aside with the specific intent of finding breakthroughs, generating ideas, creating vision. Review the way you split your time between expecting brilliance, overseeing maintenance and undergoing autopsy–and work consciously to increase the first.
Make Yourself Accountable to Someone
As a leader, when you lose your way, so does your team. If you lapse back to the old routine of expecting little in the way of brilliance from others, and trying to make it all happen yourself, then guess what? Your team will let you.
Find a mentor (or even just a buddy)–someone who will hold you accountable to expect, and demand, the best from your people, and who will act as a backstop against sliding back into trying to do it all yourself.
Who knows, maybe by releasing your team to do great things, you’ll move to even greater heights of brilliance yourself.