Leaders may allocate their leadership capital where it’s easiest to do so — the “path of least resistance” approach. In this case, leaders find it easier to work with certain team members than others, so they spend all their time with a subset of their team they like the most. This approach minimizes their stress by limiting their interactions with more difficult team members. That approach is risky. Not only will other team members feel their leader is playing favorites, but the leader isn’t getting the return she should for her leadership capital investment. Furthermore, the person who is fun to work with might be the lowest performer on the team. Imagine if you told your clients you made investment choices solely based on which account rep was the nicest.
These three approaches — “spreading peanut butter on a sandwich,” “being reactive,” and “the path of least resistance” — have benefits, but they’re not likely to be the best way to get the most efficient and effective output from the entire team.
To get the best results out of your team, you should think about your team as a portfolio of people with different performance patterns that require different amounts, and types, of leadership from you. These performance patterns come in four basic forms based on the input of leadership capital they require from you and the output they create in return:
- Exemplars (high output / low input) can be categorized based upon their career aspirations. Some Exemplars want their great performance to provide them a stepping stone to larger roles and responsibilities. These are the “Rising Stars.” Other Exemplars are content remaining in their current roles. They’re experts and they’re satisfied with delivering outstanding results without much interference from their boss. These individuals are the “Domain Masters.”
- High-Cost Producers (high output / high input) break into subtypes based on the kinds of costs they incur. Some get results but at the high cost of damaging team morale and destroying the goodwill you and your team have accrued with others. These individuals are the “Steamrollers.” High-Cost Producers who get results but require an inordinate amount of hand-holding from their leader to get them done are the “Squeaky Wheels.”
- Detractors (low output / high input) are defined by the root cause of their performance issues. Some don’t have the skills they need to do their job. These individuals are the “Square Pegs.” We call Detractors who have the skills to do the job but lack the will to do it the “Slackers.”
- Passenger (low output / low input) subtypes are determined by the kind of output they produce. Some only work to get their paycheck. They expend the bare minimum amount of effort required to keep getting paid. These are the behaviors of your “Stowaways.” Other Passengers exert a great deal of energy but they focus on tasks they want to do, not tasks you need them to do. We refer to Passengers behaving this way as “Joyriders.
Once you have identified the behavioral-performance patterns present on your team, you will see your team in a new light. (You can use this simple online tool to assess your team using this framework.) Armed with these new insights, you can figure out the specific type of leadership each team member needs from you to improve their performance. By seeing your team as a portfolio, you can also figure out how you can invest less of your time in some parts so you can invest more in other parts. In short, you will learn to get better results out of your team by working smarter, not harder, as a leader.