Improving Your Leadership Efficiency and Effectiveness
The “leading inside the box” method shows leaders how to take a much more thoughtful, proactive approach to leading their team members to get the best out of them while at the same time easing their burden of leadership. Said differently, this method is about getting the greatest results out of your team members by being wise about how you invest your time and energy
It’s about categorizing the behavioral characteristics people demonstrate and adapting your leadership style to change those behaviors. The better a leader tailors his leadership style to each individual, the more likely it is that true behavior change will occur.
What’s the Leadership Matrix and How Does It Help Me?
Your team is a portfolio of team members distributed across these different behavior types. If you’re lucky, the majority of your team can be plotted in the upper right portion of the Leadership Matrix. That’s where you get a large amount of high-quality results with little effort required from you. It’s the most efficient place on the matrix. But more often than not, you’ll find your team members are scattered across multiple boxes. Regardless of where they plot initially, remember, their position isn’t fixed. As you lead them to improved performance, they’ll change positions on the matrix.
For starters, get a complete assessment of your team’s distribution on the matrix. This view of your team is valuable because some boxes in your portfolio are much more efficient than others. This initial assessment indicates where to focus your efforts to improve their performance.
Exemplars are the stars of your team who produce great results while requiring little involvement from you. They’re the “go to” team members you turn to first when a new problem or opportunity arises. They’re so dependable that you often end up giving them more work than you give other team members. You may take them for granted because they’re incredibly low maintenance, but if you keep piling on the work and fail to provide an appropriate amount of praise, you may be asking for trouble.
Your first goal with Exemplars is retention. Think about retention broadly. It may mean keeping them happy in their current roles on your team. It may mean moving them to a new role somewhere else in the organization that may be a better place for them to continue to grow. You have two responsibilities with Exemplars: First, advance their careers. Second, retain top talent for your organization. The goal with Exemplars is to guide them to roles within your larger organization that are best suited to unlocking their true potential.
Your second goal for Exemplars is to decrease the amount of your leadership capital you’re investing in them. Doing so enables you to invest it in team members who could use the additional attention. You can decrease your time and energy investments in your Exemplars because they’re self-sufficient. In fact, reducing your investment here will likely increase the results your Exemplars generate. Generally, they thrive with increased autonomy.
#2 High-Cost Producers
High-Cost Producers carry more than their weight in delivering the team’s results but incur significant costs in doing so. You don’t know how you would fill the gap if they weren’t on your team. You’re quite dependent on them and you realize it every day. Unfortunately you often have to get them through challenges or clean up messes they’ve made as they’ve generated their results. You appreciate the contribution they make to the team but you wish they could do it without creating hassles.
Your approach to leading High-Cost Producers should be “Cost Reduction.” You’re going to reduce the amount of your leadership capital you’re investing in them and change what you’re doing with that capital. Wean these team members off of the support they rely on you to provide. Stop figuring out how to overcome their challenges. Teach them how to figure it out for themselves instead. Stop fixing the messes they make and instead get them to change behaviors to prevent those issues from occurring in the first place. You know they have the ability to produce their results without your involvement. By reducing the amount of time and effort you use to support them, you’ll force them to build those skills on their own. Like a parent teaching her children to ride a bicycle with training wheels, take precautions at first to make sure they don’t hurt themselves. Eventually you can let them go on their own to learn by doing.
Passengers fill spaces on your organization chart and their salary consumes a share of your budget. The problem with Passengers is that they’re not contributing results proportionate to what it costs to have them on the team. They’re not drowning your team, but they aren’t pulling their own weight either. They don’t create many problems but they do take up a great deal of space. If they were legislators, they would have a steady record of “Present” votes but not leave much else in terms of a legacy of achievement
Passengers prevent your team from reaching its full potential. They aren’t producing what you need but they’re taking space on your team that could be filled by a much higher-producing person. Beyond the production issues, Passengers are setting a bad example for what you expect from your team members, which may lower standards and motivation. A Passenger’s teammates are usually aware of how little meaningful work he’s getting done. They’re aware because when that work doesn’t get done by the Passenger, it ends up on their desk and their workload increases. Their frustration mounts as they watch the Passenger clock in and out or run off to chase the latest exciting idea. In the meantime, they’re slogging away at their desks thinking about how unfair it is that you’re not holding the Passenger accountable for doing his fair share of the work. At some point, the Passenger’s teammates look for roles with a more equitable balance of work across all team members.
It’s obvious to everyone that Detractors aren’t getting their job done. They occupy a valuable slot on your team, but don’t produce the commensurate results. They create a negative drag because they require leadership capital that could yield better results if invested elsewhere. When a mess happens with your team, chances are the Detractor is involved. Your Detractors consume a disproportionate amount of your time and create excessive stress.
Detractors make your team worse every day. Not only are they underperforming, but they’re also making everyone else’s jobs more difficult and less fun. Addressing Detractors aggressively is hard work that can be unpleasant, but it’s necessary. Left unchecked, they can sink your whole team—and even your career.
In the short term—two to three months—increase your leadership capital investment in your Detractors to improve their performance or move them to a different role. Create a sense of urgency for Detractors. Make them understand their current performance isn’t acceptable. Detractors may have been in their situations for years, because many managers would rather avoid the problem for fear of creating uncomfortable interactions. They’re called “difficult conversations” for a reason! You owe it to the Detractor and the organization to fix the problem on your watch and not pass it along to the next manager. You have an obligation to the Detractor to tell him the truth about his performance. Do everything you can to improve his performance. Put yourself in his position—would you rather get a warning shot about your poor performance now, or would you prefer to be unexpectedly laid off because you weren’t meeting expectations? Leaders must deliver difficult messages, and do so sooner rather than later
Your Path Forward
Your leadership success hinges upon your ability to get your people to perform well. There aren’t enough hours in the day for you to equally dedicate your focus to every individual on your team. The only real choice you have is to be intentional about where you spend that time and energy—and where you don’t. The Leadership Matrix is your key to creating your own leadership-capital allocation formula. It can help you make difficult decisions about where to focus and where not to.