Rising stars, over-achievers, go getters, true believers. You know who I’m talking about—the people who have their plates full of projects, their to-do lists packed with checkmarks, their workdays crammed with appointments. These high performers are talented individuals who share a common desire to significantly impact the success of the company. They genuinely want to make a difference and take ownership of their work, but they are only able to do so if given the means by which to do it. This falls on the shoulders of managers.
I spoke with three leaders at Leggett & Platt who have spent the majority of their careers managing high-caliber teams: Michelle Crockett, Eric Rhea, and Randall Wood. They ensure their people are continually challenged and have the necessary tools to do their jobs and do them well. Here are the top five tips they shared for managing high performers:
1. Put your team in the driver’s seat.
High performers like to own their work. They thrive when they see the big picture and how they fit into it. So what role does this leave for a manager? “If you let your team take the driver’s seat, you become the guardrails, keeping them moving forward,” Randall said. Eric acts as the guardrails by helping his team understand the why—why they should have exceptional service, why they need to be innovative. He finds balance in his role by simply guiding and directing his team as necessary—and stretching them even further. To illustrate, he quoted his grandfather: “If you get everything done you want to do, you’re not expecting enough from yourself.” He applies this philosophy to the way he leads his team, by maintaining high expectations and stretching them beyond what they thought possible, but letting them take the wheel to get there.
2. Be a support and a safety net, not a squelcher.
The last thing any high performer wants is to feel suffocated. To feel hovered over. To feel micromanaged. “I often feel the temptation to be too involved in my team’s daily work,” Eric admitted. “I have to make sure I don’t get in their way.” Randall enjoys working with his team because he trusts them to finish projects and manage tasks without his constant supervision. High performers have the innate ability to produce quality work, even when their plates are full.
But here’s the catch: managers have to be mindful of what can quickly become too much on their plates. Michelle and her team joke about seeing “the crazy eyes” in each other when days become especially stressful or busy. “In all seriousness,” she said, “it actually boils down to being perceptive.” If she catches a glimpse of a crazy eye or two, it’s her sign to act as the safety net and see how she can help. Eric agrees: when he notices a high performer struggling, he steps in and pulls back the reins a little. He may take something off their plate or help them understand that sometimes it’s okay to say “no.”
3. Remember that people are not worker bees.
There is more to the workplace than the workload; connections and relationships matter. In a recent Harvard Business Review article entitled “Connect, Then Lead,” authors suggest that to exert influence, you must balance competence with warmth. All three managers suggested that you must first get to know your team as individuals—what drives them and what makes them tick—before successfully leading them. Michelle routinely stops by her team members’ offices to chat—but not always about work. Although her team benefits from staying engaged with her, it’s really for her own benefit, so that she can connect with them on a personal level.
Additionally, they suggest using the Color Code as a resource for team-building and a means of getting acquainted with team members’ various personalities. The assessment provides a detailed analysis of one’s unique blend of strengths and how they emerge in everyday life—a great starting place for any manager who wants to build strong connections with team members.
4. Give credit where it is due.
Michelle brought up a simple but fundamental management principle: you don’t look weak when you give credit to those who have done the work. You actually look stronger. Now, this doesn’t mean that you need to congratulate your team on every single job well-done, but sincere praise every now and then goes a long way in reinforcing your team’s value–and perhaps motivates them to work even harder. Eric does this in different ways, but it’s not unusual for him to send thank you cards to the homes of his team members. “I want them to know how valuable they are to the company,” he said. Ultimately, if you make your team look good, then you will look good. Maybe even great.
5. Don’t think you have all the answers.
Yes, we all have egos. It can be tempting for anyone to rely solely on their expertise, managers included. But, as Randall notes, high performers tend to have their own strokes of brilliance–and lots of them. They are a wealth of varied skills, creativity, and perspectives, and when those go unused or unheard, managers risk shutting them down for good (it goes back to the feeling squelched thing). Michelle suggests that if you manage a strong team, simply ask them what they think from time to time. Listen to what they have to say. And, just as high performers often value and thrive on feedback, ask for their feedback about you. Caution: it may sting a bit, but you just might be surprised by what you learn.
About the author
Good conversation–there’s nothing better. I’ve always been a fan of people and the stories they tell. As a Talent Advisor for Leggett & Platt, I get to hear good ones every day when I’m listening to our candidates’ stories as I get to know them during the hiring process.
When I’m not at work, I enjoy photography–telling my own story from behind a camera lens. I’ve also been known to write a poem or two, which stems from a long-held interest in creative writing. After dreaming up wild characters and fantastical plots as a kid, I guess I just couldn’t keep my ideas in my head any longer. Someday you should ask me about Chester the Mini Dragon.