In my role as business advisor, I’m hearing more and more about workers who seem to be doing less and demanding more. The current pandemic, which has driven more dependence on remote employees, makes it even harder for business owners, as well as aspiring new business leaders, to recognize and demonstrate exemplary performance in the workplace.
Top performers want to know how to stand out, and business leaders need to know how to better recognize and mentor aspiring superstars before they burn out, or move on to new opportunities. I agree with some excellent guidance on both fronts from a recent book, “Impact Players,” by Liz Wiseman, an experienced advisor who teaches leadership to executives around the world:
- Look broadly to do the job that needs to be done. We all recognize that most employees take a narrow view of their role, while future leaders and top performers look beyond their assigned role and tackle the real job that needs to be done. They build a reputation of being a flexible utility player, with the agility to adapt to changing needs. One of the best ways to incent this is to be a good communicator, both by letting people know what is happening, and really listening to other people. The days of hiding in your office and working in isolation are gone. You will soon be out of touch and out of time.
- While others wait for direction, step up and lead. Top performers don’t wait to be asked; they get things started and involve others, even when they’re not officially in charge. They lead or follow, on demand rather than by command. They don’t assume that other people are in charge who will tell them when they are needed and what to do. In leadership circles, this is often called “leadership from behind.” Every business needs a collective leadership culture today, where anyone can step up to lead based on their unique knowledge, without fear of retribution. Don’t confuse assertiveness for leadership.
- Focus on moving things across the finish line. Look for completion freaks, rather than workers who measure their contribution by hours worked. Too many average workers operate on an avoidance mindset, taking responsible action, but when things get tough, they stall out or escalate issues up the management chain rather than taking ownership. In my experience working with investors, I find their assessment of value in a business, and an entrepreneur, is all about results, rather than the idea or the technology. The best business leaders and business professionals are also ones who produce more results.
- See change as an opportunity to learn and adapt. Many employees interpret change as annoying, unfair, or threatening to their stability. Top performers interpret new targets and new rules as a need to recalibrate and refocus their efforts, as well as the business. The result is a culture of innovation, keeping the organization relevant and responsive. Of course, you need to support this culture by providing continuous opportunities for training and industry updates, and coaching as well as feedback sessions. Show a real interest in their personal goals and aspirations, and make sure work goals are aligned.
- Make heavy demands lighter - don’t add to the load. The best players provide a lift, not by taking on other people’s work, but by being easy to work with. They bring a sense of equanimity that reduces drama, politics, and stress, and promotes a positive and collaborative work environment for everyone. They offer to help, rather than seeking help. In other words, you need mentally strong people in your organization, who are not prone to be victims, and look for positives rather than negatives. When your mind is strong, you can handle the ups and downs of the any business role, and that strength carries others.
Finally, a key part of my message is that leaders need to learn how to recognize and mentor top performers before it is too late, and team members leave in frustration. Top performers are not always the ones with flashy degrees, or the most knowledge and experience. They just need the proper mindset, work ethic, and focus to get more results in a rapidly changing business world.
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