A team needs more than just superstars: Leadershift

Claudia Williams, founder of The Human Zone

When I was in college, I was a member of the women’s varsity golf team at Penn State. I was competitive for sure, but I never had the kind of competitive instinct that made me want to play mind games with someone else in order to succeed.

The great thing about golf is that I was my own competition on the course. It wasn’t about beating another person; it was about showing up and playing the best golf I could, regardless of whether it was sunny and beautiful, pouring rain or even snowing outside.

No matter the weather or the course, there was only one thing I needed when I stood on the first tee ready to begin my round: a hug. Yes. I turned to my coach each time and said, “Denise, can I have a hug?” The first couple of times, Denise chuckled. Players from other teams looked at us a bit funny. Picture Jerry Maguire hugging Arizona Cardinals football player Rod Tidwell in the 1996 movie, “Jerry Maguire.” It was my “thing,” and Denise and I got to the point where I didn’t have to ask. She just knew.

My approach to golf resembles my approach to my career. Throughout my years as an attorney, I never had that killer instinct when it came to litigation, in the sense that it was never about me versus another attorney. It was about me versus the facts and the law and securing the best possible outcome for my client.

As a new employment lawyer, it probably wasn’t a good idea to ask for a hug before a hearing or before filing an important document with the court. But I still needed reassurance and a confidence boost. I needed to know if I was on the right path. I needed to feel supported. I needed guidance on what to do differently when I made mistakes. What I needed was coaching.

As a human resources consultant and leadership mentor, it still isn’t about me taking someone down to prove my point. It’s about helping others learn that some employees need more (or less) feedback than others at different times and even on different tasks.

It’s time to treat our workplaces like an athletic team. A team will have some superstars who move quickly up the ranks. A team also will have employees like Daniel Eugene “Rudy” Ruettiger in the 1993 film, “Rudy.” Rudy was willing to show up every day and work his tail off in the hopes of getting to play on the Notre Dame football field.

Value loyalty

What Rudy taught us is that our teammates will respect us and advocate for us if they see us giving it our all each time we show up. Our teammates will become our champions, and they will put the team ahead of a victory for any one individual. A great team needs humble superstars and consistent individual contributors. And they need a great coach.

But too many companies focus on an “up or out” approach to talent management. If employees don’t have the potential to get promoted, then they are “blockers,” standing in the way of someone else – someone better – who can move up the ranks. If they’re a blocker, then they need to leave. One problem with this approach is that it fails to consider the value of loyal employees who are great at what they do and happy doing it. It’s a short-sighted and expensive approach to staffing.

Another problem with the “up or out” approach is that leaders often are not great coaches. They become leaders because they excel at being an individual contributor, but they aren’t trained on how to coach others to excel at their jobs. Instead, employees are viewed as either “having it” or “not having it,” and those that don’t have it are shown the door rather than placed in a training program or given actionable feedback to improve.

Stop wasting money replacing employees and invest in training. Train leaders to be coaches. Coach employees to greatness. Recognize that greatness doesn’t have to mean becoming the next CEO, but it can mean becoming the best person at a single job. The best people can train those around them to be better.

Employees take great pride in knowing they helped someone become the next leader. Much like the 2018 Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles, a group of scrappers and second-string players can play with heart and beat a team built around a single superstar player. Heart is contagious. Employees who play with heart inspire those around them to strive for greatness. The business gets results that exceed expectations.

A former associate general counsel for The Hershey Co., Claudia Williams is founder of The Human Zone, a Harrisburg-area firm focused on leadership development and employee engagement. She can be reached at www.humanzonebiz.com.

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