The Challenge of Leading a High Performer

Of the four leadership styles that comprise the Situational Leadership® Model, S4 is presumed by the majority of people as “the easiest.” What’s not to like, right? We deliver S4 of low direction/low support (“You decide, I trust you”) to people who are Performance Readiness® Level R4 (“Able and Confident and Willing”) for the task at hand. This style presents as the one that will take the least amount of our time, attention, energy and concern because the people we lead this way tend to be high performers and achievers. They do what they say they will do, on time or ahead of schedule, and to a level of quality that often exceeds our expectations.

But, for many of us, the person who is R4 for most of their tasks (we never assume a person is an R4!) is the most challenging to lead! How do we continue to develop a high performer particularly when there is no promotion in the near future? How do we appropriately acknowledge (and reward) their success while seamlessly sustaining their high level of engagement?

High performers inevitably face and work through being “stuck,” “plateauing” or, worst of all, being bored at some point. As their managers, can we agree that we face and fail at this scenario on a regular basis?

The truth is, for many managers—from all levels of leadership, by the way—the person with “some challenges” is easier to lead. We have things for them to work on, items to discuss in one-on-ones and phrases to fill the text fields of periodic performance reviews and individual development plans. It could be said, then, that S4—if we’re going to get it right—may not take the least amount of time, attention, energy and concern, after all.

The purpose and desired outcome of S4 is ongoing autonomy and mastery.

 

You cannot be an effective leader without cultivating your own personal art of delegation. And it’s not simply (as if!) delegating pieces of work and projects; it’s empowering those you lead with their own appropriate levels of authority and autonomy! Craig Groeschel, founder of Life.Church says, “When you delegate tasks, you create followers. When you delegate authority, you create leaders.” And don’t we want to cultivate leaders?

The fruit of an apple tree isn’t apples; it’s more apple trees. Great leaders produce more great leaders.

After we set aside the first and foremost excuse (reason?) (yes, the uncontested winner: “I don’t have the time … It’s quicker and easier if I just do it …”), well, transparently many of us are just plain afraid to delegate, even to a high performer. We have thoughts like, “What if they blow it and make a million-dollar mistake? What if my boss tells me I’m out of my mind? What if they don’t do it like me and I don’t like how they do it? How will their work reflect on me?” And, least appealing, “What if they are better at it than I am?”

Get over yourself! You’re too much in your own head and focused on … well, you! Your emotional immune system1 is probably in hyperdrive, fighting to stay in control, avoid overwhelm and keep you in a positive place. If you disable it (and who can imagine that scenario?!), you would be throwing all caution to the wind and leaping off the ledge. Yes, let’s agree that you have to be wise and thoughtful, weighing the risks and counting the cost. But there is a difference between valid concern that a person can handle something (i.e., they are still at R2) and your fear of letting go of that something.

To be an effective leader, we must develop our delegation muscle. It requires taking stock of our assumptions and working through those—yes, I’m going to say it—feelings. Are they justified? Is there reasonable cause for concern? With a conscientious effort, could delegation deliver a positive outcome? Or are we simply holding on past the due date, unwilling to let go of control of things that—should we release—would benefit our people, ourselves and even our loved ones (think work-life balance)?

APPLICATION CHALLENGE

  1. Do you remember what your primary leadership style is? Pull your Situational Leadership®: Building Leaders workbook off the shelf (I’m sure it is handy!) and reflect on how you might be favoring that one style in your various attempts to influence.
  2. Since taking the LEAD Self or LEAD Other assessment, how have you been doing at increasing your adaptability score? To particularly those of you who are natural S3/S4 leaders, how are you at flexing in (raising directive and supportive behaviors) when someone needs your leadership with tasks for which they are R1/R2?
  3. Take just five minutes (On the car ride home today? During tomorrow’s early morning run?) and consider each of your direct reports. Who is ready, willing and right in front of your nose to develop into your next apple tree?

1Kegan R, Lahey L. Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization. Boston, MA; 2009.