We had completed 40 miles of a bike trip yesterday when I came upon “yellow-shirt man”. Just as I was starting to get tired, I spied a bike up ahead going fairly slow. I yelled out to him that two people would be passing him on the left. I yelled back a thank-you and sped up to pass him. Was it my imagination, or did he speed up when I began to pass him? With my little burst of energy, I decided to keep pushing and leave a good amount of space between us.
There I was, pushing hard, and having difficulty lengthening the space between me and yellow shirt man. Why was he so close every time that I looked behind me? I pushed even harder and attempted to distance myself from him, once and for all.
However, it didn’t work. There he was, way too close for comfort. What was his deal? Why was he trying to annoy me?
And then it occurred to me. He wasn’t trying to annoy me. He was biking alone and couldn’t find his motivation to go faster and push out of his comfort zone. When we passed him, he felt our energy and wanted to try to stick with us. He wanted to push himself harder and see if he could compete. He had done a really good job at keeping up with us. I would have never guessed that he would have had the stamina to do that.
Now, what’s this have to do with anything? Well, I was thinking about how it has everything to do with you, as a leader, and how you lead your team.
Let’s say the majority of your team is riding along slowly like “yellow shirt man”. They don’t do exceptional work but they’re adequate employees. You hire in a new employee named Boris that is just exceptional. He’s driven, innovative and a real superstar. This just might motivate the rest of your team to rev up and try to compete with Boris. This could be exactly what they need to kick it into a new gear.
However, the problem is that you have established a culture on your team. Your group has learned that mediocrity is really all that is expected. They might not be able to articulate this, but subconsciously, they have an understanding of your expectations. Boris might heat things up for a while, but probably not for long. Chances are, the team will become antagonized by Boris’s zealous attitude because it threatens the status quo.
Boris is bucking the culture.
Eventually, Boris will leave, frustrated with the team’s behavior. You will be frustrated because you thought bringing in Boris would improve everyone’s performance.
Yes, challenge and competitiveness drives performance. It can light a fire under team members to perform. However, culture trumps everything.
The answer always goes back to you as a leader. Bringing in Boris won’t solve the problem. You need a whole team of Boris clones. And to acquire these clones, you need to have consistent expectations and hold people accountable when they don’t follow through.
You have to expect quality work from the whole team.
Then, the timing is right to bring Boris on board.