Mentor the ambitious; don’t accept mediocrity


07.01.2012 - His Hand

There are strategies to deal with all kinds of employees: the ambitious, the unmotivated, the motivated, the over-sharer, the timid…the list goes on an on. In this scenario, you have two main types of employees, the ambitious and the lazy. For the sake of argument, let’s define ambitious as the type of employee who exerts him/herself every day, taking on extra responsibilities, but will keep an eye out for something better. We will define the lazy employee as the person who does the bare minimum required. S/he may not ever blip on the radar, but don’t expect anything of them.

Your life may be easier with the flies-beneath-the-radar employee, but is that the type of organization you want to have? Mediocrity is the standard in that scenario.

Your life may be complicated by the ambitious employee because s/he will ask you questions, expect mentoring, and push you to make decisions that will make your business better.

I would suggest that a major failing of our larger and more stagnant businesses is that they do not have systems in place to reward high achievers. In point of fact, it has been my experience that it is more likely to have ‘award and recognition’ programs than it is to have effective processes in place to either 1. encourage better performance or 2. discourage mediocre performance.

It is relatively easy to discourage poor performance in most companies. Perhaps based on the difficulty in identifying mediocre performers, perhaps based on the difficulty in time management (spending 90% of your time on 10% of your employees), but the mediocre seem to slip through the cracks.

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.” – Benjamin Disraeli

Regarding those ambitious, high-performers: MENTOR them. Speak to them honestly about their desires. Find meaningful projects for them to accomplish. Don’t just heap responsibilities on them that others could (and likely should) be doing. These are the value-added individuals that will make your organization thrive.

It is up to you, Leader. Decide what kind of organization you would choose to build, then hire, mentor, promote, fire, punish, as appropriate.


Change is a constant: be flexible!

Keep Calm

In project management they are referred to as cross-cutting skills; skills that apply to a whole process. A successful business career often involves significant changes in location, position, and duties. The rapidity of those transitions can be staggering if you focus on the changes as discrete events, requiring painful effort each time. The skill to maintain your calm; to remain optimistic in the face of stressful change is a cross-cutting skill.


“Change *is* nature, Dad. The part that *we* can influence. And it starts when we decide” –Remy (Ratatouille)

For those lucky enough not to experience this paradigm and still lead a happy “successful” business life or those who are content with stagnant growth, you may stop reading here. For the rest of us, think about your life. All those decisions, the opportunities, the setbacks; rather than focusing on what you would or wouldn’t change, focus on the journey. You’ve done great to get where you are! Regret is poisonous and yet difficult to dismiss as there are often so many paths that could have been taken.

“Always in motion is the future” –Yoda (The Empire Strikes Back)

How do you embrace change? Have faith in yourself. Reflect on your priorities and decisions: make sure they are aligned. Look forward to opportunities with a positive mental attitude (thanks, Jack Welch). Take joy in the moment while living your life in the present (thanks, Yoda). Always keep in mind that there are things we can control and things we can’t, but we always have freedom of choice-how to respond in a given situation (thanks, Viktor Frankl).

photo by: thebarrowboy

Praise Motivates

Jeff Gives a Thumbs Up!There are a lot of funny looks directed at me when I smile and cheer during staff meetings.

My friends and fellow Area Managers have been working hard on a strategic initiatives this past quarter and when the great results are mentioned there is too often a funereal silence in the room, more twiddling of thumbs and checking of email; business as usual for our high-achieving department. I am an introvert, but I’m not shy. That was burned out of me years ago in the course of my officership and time spent performing in professional choirs, but it is sometimes difficult to break the ominous silence…even for me.

It seemed a shame that with so much good news, there were so few smiles.

I firmly believe that a person is more motivated when they receive positive feedback based not only on routine performance, but on extraordinary achievements; not just with the same award that Joe Schmoe did for tying his shoe right last quarter, but with meaningful recognition. Some people are confused by the “meaningful” part of “meaningful recognition,” thinking that it must mean either money or time off (i.e. tangibles). Studies have consistently shown that verbal praise is especially useful to stimulate and maintain intrinsic motivation, especially when it is provided in a public and/or spontaneous setting (Cameron, Pierce, Banko, & Gear, 2005; Deci, 1972; Yukl, 1999).


Catch someone in the act. Even a small good behavior, when recognized, can have a huge impact on their future performance




Cameron, J., Pierce, D.W., Banko, K.M., & Gear, A. (2005). Achievement-based rewards and intrinsic motivation: A test of cognitive mediators. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97(4), 641-655.

Deci, E.L. (1972). Intrinsic motivation, extrinsic reinforcement, and inequity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 22, 113-120.

Poore, J. (2012, October). The STAR leader’s role in creating exceptional experiences. Speech presented at Kaiser Permanente STAR Leader Forum, San Jose, CA.

Yukl, G. (1999). An evaluation of conceptual weaknesses in transformational and charismatic leadership theories. Leadership Quarterly, 10, 285–305.


photo by: Infusionsoft

MAKE time to improve yourself


In the course of my professional and personal life, I have experienced very little time to sit back and reflect, to take the time to read professional literature and apply those principles in a low-stress environment.  For most leaders, this is true more often than not; especially in our data-driven, technologically advanced workplaces. Managers today are required to know more, do more, and to interact more meaningfully and often with their employees.

Most of the significant things done in the world were done by persons who were either too busy or too sick! There are few ideal and leisurely settings for the disciplines of growth. – Robert Thornton Henderson

Taking time to read leadership books and blogs, to connect with other managers, to spend that extra few minutes a day on encouraging your employees using the techniques you have learned; these are more valuable pursuits than they seem in and of themselves.

When applied in the workplace, you will find that improving yourself pays dividends out of proportion to the effort it takes.

photo by: bottled_void

Leadership can be hard. It WILL be harder if you whine about it.

Colin Powell

I am an avid proponent of optimism in the workplace, and in life, as a matter of fact. Colin Powell said it best: “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” A force multiplier is an element added to a situation that increases the effectiveness by a measure greater than the element itself.

Dale Carnegie wrote my personal favorite personal/professional book: “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” In it, he talks about a dog, the animal that is always happy to see you, who has a perpetual smile, who wags his tail and makes the world a happier place. Though taking lessons from a pet might seem like an oversimplification, try it out sometime and measure the results in the number of positive interactions you have in your office.

When you greet someone with a smile, they will probably smile back. Smiles are infectious, so are frowns. What legacy do you want to leave in your workplace?

photo by: Tom Raftery