I’ve noticed something interesting about who I spent my time with in my Scout Troop. I’ve always had at least one kids that was high-maintenance. Doctors & school principles are especially fond of sending boys (it was mostly boys) with behavioural challenges to us, since the discipline will do them good. Not being in the suburbs means we also recruit many single-parent families or inner-city kids. I’ve had years where over half of the boys and girls were on medication, in counselling, physically disabled, developmentally challenged, or more than one of the above.
So out-of-control kids are sent to us for the “discipline”. This is ironic, because the best Scout troops are self-disciplined. Discipline isn’t imposed from the outside, by the grown-ups. The discipline comes from the Scouts themselves. Just like in the best work environments, sport teams, army units, or community organizations, the leadership comes from within the group.
I’d been fed up with always chasing the problems. I wasn’t spending time the way I wanted to – developing good citizens by exposing them to the outdoors. I was being a substitute parent, counsellor, and medical dispensary. I was stuck in basic maintenance mode, instead of doing the fun, outdoor, exciting challenging things the boys and girls would remember for the rest of their lives. Some kids started to drift away, because nobody was giving them the guidance and coaching they needed to advance in the program or do the fun, outdoors activities they had come for.
I started spending more one-on-one time with the kids who came ready, wanted to earn badges, were having fun, and were willing to do all the work it takes to get ready to go to camp. I figured out what made them tick, what it was about the program they enjoyed, what they wanted to do, what they wanted to change. I started giving those kids extra responsibility to take charge of the things they wanted to do, and they ran with it.
That’s when something interesting happened. Many the problems I’d been chasing started taking care of themselves. The “best” Scouts started to exert peer pressure to make the others fall into line. They didn’t want all their hard work spoiled by somebody else who was acting up. Kids who’d previously been challenging realized that if they still wanted my time & attention that they’d have to act more like the others.
If you think this kind of focus doesn’t apply to the workplace, you’d be wrong. In the Gallup Organization’s book “First, Break all the Rules What the World’s Greatest Manager’s Do Differently”, one of the keys they found to supporting superior performance in a team was to focus on the best performers. Instead of spending a lot of time and energy trying to take below average staff to average, the best managers spend their valuable time helping their best performers become outstanding.
This is counter to the conventional wisdom. As managers we assume, or even just told, that we’re good managers if we can somehow make a star performer out of everybody on the team.
This just doesn’t work. Great managers realize they can’t make other people change. They can only bring out the natural talents that their employees and staff already have. Sometimes that means figuring out what those talents are and how to use them. Sometimes it means finding a different job where their talents are better suited. They realize it’s just egotistical and cruel to try to make somebody be good at a job they don’t like or believe in.
Figure out what makes the good ones good, by whatever measure is right to your organization and team. Remove obstacles. Leverage their strengths and reward them by paying more attention to them. Figure out how to improve the rest of your team by what you learn from the best, instead of focusing on what’s broken. Learn to hire for the talents that work best in your business or for that job.
Focusing on what’s working right is the best way to develop your entire staff. It will give you the biggest return on your time spend. Investing in your best is the fairest thing to do, for them and for the entire team. Don’t your best performers deserve your time and attention?