Leading the “weakest link”

One would be naive to think that we all operate with the same set of skills, talents, and abilities. I consider myself to be one of the most optimistic people in the world…why else would I subject myself to the pressure of the sales profession all of my adult life? That said, even I’m hard-pressed to ignore the contributions (or lack thereof) of the lesser-talented members of a team…the weakest links.

Last month, Col. Tom Kolditz wrote an interesting article for Inc. Magazine (online) about how leaders can maximize the assets of their teams – even their weakest links. Col. Kolditz believes you should use the “weak” to enhance the skills of the “strong”…a sort of leadership pivot, if you will:

How to Turn Your Worst Employee Into a Top Asset

You’ve heard the adage, “Hire the right people, and everything else is easy.” That may be true, but it’s also unrealistic—especially in start-ups and rapidly growing, innovative businesses. Mistakes are made in hiring; high-potential people fizzle out, burn out, or check out. Every owner eventually leads a workforce with mixed talent and ability. And inevitably, one member of the workforce comes in dead last.

In that situation, the temptation is to fix the weak link. Under pressure from other team members who resent the poor performer, you start to squander time and energy in righteous indignation, remediation, and repair. It’s a dispositional world view—if only you could fix this one person, the organization would be better….If the worst are taking energy away from the best at your company, there is no way you are performing to capacity, and your leadership will be distracted and ineffectual.

So how do you lead your “weakest links”? Col. Kolditz recommends reframing the situation and focusing on the strength of the team rather than the deficiencies of the weak performer. Kolditz wrote “we became better—not in spite of the weakest performers, but because of them.” That proclamation is reminiscent of my article “The Rock in Your Shoe” where I extol the benefits of embracing disruptive events – and using them to create new opportunities.

Col. Kolditz goes on to cast the weak performer as a “gift”:

The primary insight is that poor performance points to conditions in the organization that allow it to occur. What a gift that can be! In the long run, it’s usually more important for you to address those conditions than it is to fret over a single weak employee. A single poor performer can capture a leader’s attention and energy like a drowning person taking a would-be rescuer to the bottom. Team rescues, on the other hand, always succeed.

As an effective leader, your job is to continually scan the horizon and notice when things are askew, and weak performers will always garner your attention. Once you’ve determined the root-problem, you’ll be poised to develop a solution that will benefit your “weakest link” – and the entire team.

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