I had a great conversation with a colleague at another institution who inspired this blog post. She is not new to leading a team, but she is getting the opportunity to lead a team of talented people for the first time.
In our call, she wanted to know how to lead talented teams and how that might differ from leading teams that need more day-to-day support.
I gave her some tips and ideas, but as I’ve mulled the conversation around in my head (and in my subconscious). I’ve come up with a few tips that I wish I had thought of in the moment. I’ll be sharing this with her, but I also wanted to share these thoughts with others in the event they’re helpful.
These are my personal tips from experience leading and managing teams that are a mix of average and high-performing individuals. High-performing individuals have much to offer your teams and your institution, if engaged in a meaningful way.
Lead Not Manage – In high-performing individuals, if their work is really strong and they aren’t causing office drama, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of “I don’t have any feedback for you.” Try really hard to avoid this. Instead, use that time in 1:1s and in other spaces to focus more on larger conversations — Where would you like to grow?, Are there opportunities you want to explore that you’re not getting? Engaging the person in this way helps to continue to add value to their working experience and still gives you opportunities to help them toward that next step.
Don’t Normalize High-Performers – While high-performers may get you projects ahead of schedule, can take on multiple things, and you never see their brow break a sweat, it is important to realize these people are the exception and not the rule. When you normalize the behavior and begin to expect others to operate the same way, it creates office issues and challenges. I don’t think this happens intentionally, but it’s important to be aware of because it can happen relatively easily.
Find Creative Projects – If you have high-performers, they likely get bored with some of the daily tasks of their job, so find a way to balance their creative energy. Give them a project they can sink their teeth into that they can make their own. Maybe it’s researching a new process? Or a quarterly creative video? Or a new storytelling initiative? Even better than coming up with the project, engage that individual for ideas. Having that outlet to do something fun will help provide balance to the daily required tasks.
Communicate the Why – To borrow a bit from Simon Sinek, in my personal experience, high-performers really need to understand the “why”. Doing the task because it’s been assigned or part of their job isn’t enough. They need to understand the “why” of doing things. This is okay and isn’t a sign of mal-intent. Instead, it’s critical to their success. High-performers do great work, and they usually do it quickly, so take additional time on the front-end to communicate the why of the project so they can better understand it. From my experience, it will make a significant difference in the outcome.
Engage Great Ideas – High-performers have really good ideas. If you can create a culture of brainstorming (I have a really good model for this, so reach out if you want to know more) on projects, you will see these individuals find their voice. In doing this, it’s important to set boundaries (the project still has to be done within the required timeframe and the project budget). I have gone into several meetings with high-performers with a really solid idea, and they have blown me away with how they’ve taken that idea and transformed it into something much better. For this to work, you as the leader has to be comfortable with the best idea in the room isn’t always yours.
If you’re interested in learning more about leading high-performers, here’s an article from Harvard Business Review that also offers some tips. I read this after writing my own advice and was excited to see we align on a few tips.
Want to talk more? I’m happy to chat about how to manage those top-leaders on your teams.