Overachievers, Mediocre, Underperformers. Where Do You Focus?

If you are managing growing teams you probably experienced it yourself. So much to do and so little time. One of your primary responsibilities as a leader is to coach, mentor and develop your team. You want to make sure that everyone knows what they should do and they are constantly expanding their abilities and growing in the job and to the next one. This is very important not only for their personal benefit but also for your ability to scale the organization.

But where do you spend the most of your time when it is clear to you that you cannot give every single individual eight hours a day of attention? Do you focus on the underperformers to help them perform? Do you focus on the average guy to make him a star? Or do you focus on the overachievers who already excel at what they are doing? This is extremely complex issue that may even be a bit controversial.

What happens when you focus on Underperformers?

For argument’s sake let’s assume the 20-70-10 rule. You have 20% of overachievers, 70% of the average guys and 10% of underperformers. If you say you want to spend 80% of your time with the 10% of underperformers to make them into average guys it sounds like a safe bet. You will deal with their issues, they will perform better than in the past you helped your organization. The rest of the team will do a decent job, couple of overachievers will even drag the rest of the team slowly forward. This may not be completely bad strategy when you are in industry where it is impossible to replace the low performers and you don’t need the team to grow and reach more than it is reaching today.

What happens when you focus on Mediocre ones (the average guy)?

The average guys are most of your organization so let’s focus 80% of your energy and time on them. You can help them to be better and better at their jobs and eventually event get to the next level and catch up with the best in your team. Sounds like a good approach to equalize the team. This way you also offset the bad work done by the underperformers so in average the team does a good job. The average guys are happy as they are getting opportunities, the underperformers are struggling, some may even leave, but since you don’t focus on them too much they will probably stay. Only the overachievers will at some point say enough and leave since they are not getting the opportunities to learn and grow and at the end of the day the best wants to work again with the best.

What happens when you focus on Overachievers?

You are spending 80% of your time with people who are already very good at what they do. They are talented, motivated, dedicated to the success of the organization so it may sound a bit counter-intuitive. However, your effort is not to make them better at what they do already well, but rather to use their potential and accelerate their move to the next level. This may be a more senior technical role or a leadership role. What is the big benefit of focusing on these guys? You just build yourself a team of people who can help you grow the rest of the organization, deal with the underperformers and scale the team much faster than you could do alone. Then it is not completely only your job to help the average guy or deal with the underperformer. You have whole army of overachievers who were given the training, the attention and the means to excel and help you in a truly meaningful way. The nice side effect is that the top talent will most likely stick around as they will feel properly challenged and valued.

So what are you going to do?

It always depends on your circumstances but I would argue that to quickly build a scalable and fast growing organization you need to spend disproportionate amount of time with the overachievers and the top talent. You need to give them the support and means to quickly grow to the next job level and help you build the rest of the organization. Of course, you need to spend some amount of time with mediocre ones and the underperformers to give them a fair chance and support to improve, but you also need to realize when enough is enough and that they would be happier elsewhere.


Where do you focus your coaching and mentoring effort? What type of people do you prioritize? Or are you democratically distributing your time equally across the whole team?

Originally published at LinkedIn.

Leadership In The Age Of Duck

I recently came across a post by Kate Thome “Got Executive Presence? Part 2 Be A Duck” where she talks about one of the coaching gems from her mother. “When you watch a duck on water, it’s moving all over the pond but completely still above the water. Underneath, the duck’s paddling like crazy to keep it calm above the surface. Be a duck. Keep the swirl underneath you. It won’t go away, you just have to put it somewhere else.”

It seemed like a great introduction to the follow up post on Leading Under Pressure since I want to talk about the importance of keeping your emotions under check to project confidence and positivity towards your team even when you have a bad day.

Having a bad mood

It happens to all of us. Every now and then even the most positive person doesn’t feel all that good. It might be you just had an argument with your spouse, your children don’t do well at school or your car broke down. Whatever the cause the moment you step through the door to the office you need to get to your “usual self”. If you are close to your team they will always read the signals. It is ok not to smile if you don’t feel like it but you need to let the environment around you know that it is not them, it is you. So what do you do? Either you are able to “forget” and flip the switch in your head that tells your body that everything is fine or you should just apologize to your team that you have problems that may impact your work and ask them for patience with you.

Taking things personally

This is big NO in business setting. In fact, in any setting. You should never take things personally or assume that the sole purpose of existence of other people is to hurt you. In most cases if you feel that others did something that harms you they didn’t mean to. In fact, they may not even realize that their actions impacted you in negative way. There are two things you can do. You can sit with the person and calmly analyze what just happened and let them know how their actions or words impacted you and ask them not to do it again. If that is not for whatever reasons practical you can at least try to find positive explanation of their actions. Just the fact that you can imagine that they meant good and just didn’t realize the negative impact on you can help you get to more positive and quiet mood.

Being distracted

Having way too many things on our mind is yet another reason why we have negative impact on the others around us. If you ever forget someone’s name the moment he told it to you, or you constantly switching between tasks and then not remembering what is the status of any of them, or if you just sit through a meeting without having a clue what was it about you know what I’m talking about. For a leader this is one of the things that can eventually destroy your relationship with your team as they would just say “he never listens”. The only way to change that is to force yourself to live in the moment. If you are talking to someone, remind yourself not to think about what you will have for dinner. If you sit on a meeting, stop responding to emails. And of course learn to say “no” to things that you know you won’t have time to deal with.

Feeling pressured and frustrated

The ultimate destroyer of your productivity or the productivity of your team is feeling of pressure and frustration. Both are strong emotions not easily handled but both can be tackled with a bit of mental gymnastics. The easiest way how to deal with frustrations is not to get to that state in the first place. And that doesn’t mean changing the people around you. It means having a positive outlook at life and have the internal acceptance that not everything in the world will bend the way you would like it to. And if you really get frustrated then not taking it personally, having face to face discussion with the source of your frustration, asking for help, razor sharp focus on resolution, or just acceptance that there are things in the world you cannot change and therefore should worry about are all good tactics how to deal with frustrations.

Being a duck

So if you want to be seen as a strong leader who people can rely on you should be like a duck. You will be still required to work hard, deal with your daily issues and problems under water, but on the surface you are the happy mother duck who leads by example and gives her offspring confidence and abilities to survive in today’s world


How do you ensure that you are able to lead by example and keep you team focused and motivated even when you are in bad mood?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Company Culture And The Role Of A Facility Manager

Have you ever thought on how is the company culture being impacted by the facilities you sit in? And when you go about to build a new office what are the things you consider when designing the space? Would you do it yourself, hire external designer, ask the team, or you just don’t care and let the landlord build something that is good as long as it has a company logo all over the place? I have built offices in couple of countries and had teams working in temporary spaces that were very different from the ultimate space where they moved in.

After going through this several times there is one thing very obvious to me: the physical layout of the space has an incredibly huge impact on the culture and atmosphere within the organization. This also means that your “Facility Manager” (being it a real person with full-time job or just a virtual role) has enormous impact on what company and organizational culture you build.

Understanding of business and the desired culture

It may not be obvious but a great facility manager needs to have a good understanding of the business, who the customers are, and how the business model works. What are the critical interaction within the company? Which departments needs to work closely together and how they need to communicate to achieve their goals? How the interaction with customers looks like and what is the desired customer experience? Understanding how the products are build, financed, marketed, sold, and supported is important to understand how the layout of the office should look like, who should sit where, and what infrastructure and technologies needs to be built in to support it.

Knowledge of design and ergonomics

Once it comes to design of individual offices, meeting rooms and work stations another skills set comes to play. Good understanding of design, ergonomics and human behavior will help the facility manager to design a space that is conductive to effective work while having no negative impact on health of the employees. Even if you decide to outsource the design you still need to have your say. And keep in mind it is not that much about corporate design guidelines, for that you can just sent to your designer color codes and vector graphics of company logo. It is much more about designing space that will foster the necessary level of communication and collaboration, and that will send the right message to employees, as well as visitors and promotes the company values.

Partner, vendor, and project management

Good facility manager also knows how to represent the company towards partners, vendors, suppliers and can have a big impact on public relations and how is the company seen by external stakeholders. This means being a good sales person who can enthusiastically talk about the company and its values, who can find the right vendors and suppliers who will fit well with the company culture and are willing to adjust their services to comply with company’s needs.

Good facility manager also needs to have excellent project management skills, understand how to get things done in a collaborative manner, needs to be able to negotiate good deals, and be able to anticipate risks and mitigate them.

Creative thinking and collaboration

Good facility manager doesn’t do all by herself. It of course depends on actual culture you are trying to build but having the ability to involve other employees, make them enthusiastic about helping to build or maintain the facility can greatly improve the impact she can have on the organization. This often means some creative thinking and willingness to try new things and adopt ideas coming from other people. And it is especially important when the facility manager has a global role and needs to build offices across locations and cultures. What works in one country may not have the same impact in another one.

So next time you are hiring your facility manager take it seriously. It is not some obscure, invisible, bureaucratic role, but it is a role that can have an enormous impact on the culture in your organization and business success of your company.


How does your company decide on what the office space should look like? Do you have the same space across all locations or is every team doing something different? What is the impact this have on communication, collaboration, and culture of the company?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Leadership In The Age Of Chameleon

How do you learn and grow? You mimic the people around you. Since you were a little child you observed the people around you and tried to mimic their behavior. You saw your mother speak on the phone so when she finished you went, picked up the phone yourself and started mumbling into it as that is what your mum did. You saw your grandfather read newspapers so you took them and started pretending to read it exactly as your grandpa did. You were faking it, until you were actually able to read yourself or to be able dial a real number and actually talk to your friend over the phone.

Remember your first job?

You were a bit shaky and clumsy. You watched how others around you are dealing with a particular tasks, you tried several approaches until you figured out a way that works for you. If you had no one around you to learn from it probably took you several attempts to get things right. If you had a mentor it was most likely way easier to get the job done and get confident doing it. Why? Because you could mimic approach taken by someone else.

First time being a manager?

When you got your first formal leadership or management position you were suddenly faced with a whole new world of problems and challenges. Suddenly you were not responsible for yourself only but for lots of other people who looked up to you for guidance, mentorship, help. You were most likely wondering whether you are ready, you were not particularly confident and it was visible also to the team. I talked about some of the fears in 6 Fears Of Leadership.

So what do you do in this case? You are humble, willing to admit you don’t know everything but at the same time you exude confidence that you will figure it out quickly. You find a great mentor or at least look around what other leaders are doing and you do the same. It will feel awkward at the beginning but eventually your will learn and build your own unique style.

One of the top characteristics of a good leader (at least in a Western world) is authenticity. Being authentic is highly valued as it makes you more human, more accessible for your team and helps you build better rapport with people around you. The problem with this is that when you are pushed to a new role that requires different approach to dealing with problems you need to change and for some time you will feel (and others will most likely see it too) that “it is not me”. This is just ok and it happens all the time when you are getting to more senior leadership positions. Expectations and the job description are simply changing and you need to. I would suggest to be rather open about it when approached by someone who feels you are changing and explain why you do some things differently now. The one thing you need to stay true to are your core values. As long as these are untouched you can mimic others.

Be a chameleon while being yourself

Not particularly useful advice, huh? So what does it mean? It means finding the right balance between being able to admit that there are things you don’t know, learn fast by observing others, while appearing to be in control and knowing what you are doing.

A good way to tackle this is to follow these three basic steps:

  • Observe the world around you. Look at others who excel at a particular skill, or are successful at the particular job. Watch, listen, ask, and try to understand all the details and reasons why their particular approach works
  • Mimic what you see. Don’t be afraid to try to behave the same way. It will most likely feel awkward at first but if you persist you will get better and better and develop the new skills or styles of work
  • Internalize to make it part of yourself. This is where you are getting back to yourself. You take the skill you learned and make it part of your repertoire. You will adapt the approach to performing that particular task in such a way that it fits your overall style. You already know how to do it, you just need to tweak it so you are comfortable doing it and it will become part of you. Now you are authentic again.

The next time you are faced with a new and challenging task that stretches your abilities and requires a new approach look around how others has dealt with it… and be a chameleon.


How do you deal with new situations? If you are in a leadership position and being faced by tasks you have never done how do you approach it? How do you lead people and have the confidence to inspire them when you’ve never done it before?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.