In Action, Change, Leaders

“If I’ve got one thing that I really believe about fiction and life, it’s that there are no minor characters.” – Jane Gardam

One of the most frustrating things for me to watch is any organization that underachieves.  When you see a group of people with talent and nothing to show for it, it feels like a waste.  They could accomplish so many things, and provide so much value to their communities and the world, but it just doesn’t happen.

There could be all kinds of reasons why groups underperform.  Maybe they don’t work hard, although in my experience that’s not usually the biggest issue.  Maybe they have integrity issues, although again, that typically isn’t the biggest problem.  Culture issues are often part of the problem, but that’s not the topic for today.

Today I’m thinking about the idea of having the right people in the right seats on the bus (thanks Jim Collins).  In particular, I’m thinking about a number of organizations I’ve worked with lately who have talented people who work hard, have integrity, treat people right, etc., but things just aren’t working – and it’s because their best people aren’t doing their best things.

We all have to do things that are outside of our wheelhouse, particularly if you work in a smaller organization.  We don’t get to say, “I’m only doing this and I refuse to do that” very often.  But too often, we use that as an excuse for what I’ll call “role laziness.”

Because we know we have to do multiple things, I think most organizations don’t work nearly hard enough to get people doing the things they’re best at.  They think it’s not possible to move things around, or think differently about how they assign work, so they just don’t even try that hard.  They’ve always done it a certain way, so they’ll just keep doing it that way.

Don’t be one of those organizations.  One of your number one goals as a leader should be to understand what is the highest and best use of your people (especially your best people), and then get them doing that as much as possible.  Just as importantly, you need to understand what is exhausting and demoralizing and disengaging for your people (especially your best people), and then get them doing as little of that as possible.

No, you probably won’t get to the point where they’re spending 100% of their time doing their best thing.  But if now they’re doing what they do best 30% of the time, and you can get that to 60%, what kind of impact would that have?  You know the answer to that question.

As a leader, you can’t accept less than you best from your people.  Part of that means putting them in a position to actually be their best.  Get them in the right space and watch them take you somewhere great.

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