Focus on the Stars

 Chapter 4 108-110 Lead With Love By: Gerry Czarnecki

Your toughest challenge may be to focus your efforts on your strongest associates rather than the weakest. Anyone who loves people is likely to feel a strong desire to provide support to the organization’s problematic members. Again, it’s tempting to play amateur psychologist or social worker and try to modify behavior. You could spend much of your daily routine focusing on strengthening the weakness points of underperforming staff. You could commit to making them a success. But when you place your focus on helping the weak, you leave the strong to fend for themselves. You cannot allow your love to distract you from loving all your associates. By loving all your associates, you will find that the ones who can benefit most are the ones with the greatest potential. Do not cheat them by assuming that they can make it on their own.

 I learned this lesson from a candidate who was vying for a senior management position in my organization. During the interview, I asked him to tell me about a time when he had taken a problem employee and helped that person to become an excellent associate. His answer shocked me. He said he had never been successful in transforming a truly weak employee and that he had never really spent much time trying. Early in his career, his mentor gave him some sage advice. He told him he should spend almost all of his development time—80 percent or more—helping high-potential people become great, leaving weaker associates with the remaining 20 percent of his time. Since this idea violated everything I then believed about leadership,

I did not hire the candidate. As fate would have it, my very next meeting was with a manager who had already taken up much of my time the day before by making a serious managerial mistake. I spent an hour with him explaining why his decision was simply wrong and destructive to the organization, but he could not understand why I was making such a fuss over the issue.

 Right after that meeting, my best manager came to me with a problem he needed help with. At this point, I only had five minutes before I had to meet with my boss. By the time he laid out the problem, it was time for me to leave. As I was going out the door, he said to me in a rather frustrated tone, “Gerry, I really needed help, and you couldn’t give me five minutes. I guess I’ll have to find somebody else to help me.” I knew I had let him down. He was my best manager and deserved better. That night I was forced to look at myself in a very painful way. That first candidate was right about the 80/20 rule with employees. I began to change my thinking about leadership development. This lesson must be remembered if you are going to build an organization committed to peak performance.

 This was a tough lesson, and it also drove home the need to embrace completely the love concept. If I had truly been practicing love for my managers, I would have realized that this manager needed me. Indeed, a little careful evaluation of that manager would have reminded me of the fact that he seldom came to me for advice, but when he did, he really was stuck. If I had been thinking of him, instead of myself, that mistake would never have been made.

 It is a tough position to be in, but their needs are so much more important than ours. Our associates must find us available with the love that allows us to help them when they need it. With a commitment to help the strong, you will fulfill the true support  function that the best really need. The good get better, the best excel.

You are not going to achieve peak performance with a mediocre staff. Your company may be better than another company, or your unit may be better than another unit, but you will not achieve peak performance until stars dominate the staff and you spend time to develop those stars. The key to this concept is a core principle: a star is not always the star performer. A star is a person who has the potential of being the outstanding associate, yet may not have arrived at that achievement level. A star is defined by long-term potential, not by current performance. Focusing your development efforts on your stars is not an elitist philosophy; it is simply the best use of your time. When you help a star develop to become a star performer, you have not only served yourself well, but you also have served the individual and the organization as a whole. Ten minutes of helping a star to do a better job will pay greater dividends than ten hours with a mediocre or unsatisfactory performer. You should not write off the unsatisfactory performer, but you must make certain that the star gets the benefit of your leadership first. The investment will have a phenomenal return.

 Ask yourself which staff member is your potential star. Have you adequately trained that person? Is that person performing at his capability? What could you do to make the person become one of the company’s highest performers? Armed with the answers to these questions, sit down with that person and tell him you want to develop a plan for advancing his growth. Give that associate the opportunity to participate in the plan development. You will get his attention, and you may even energize him with your commitment and your love.

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