Episode: How to Lead High Achievers
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Megan Hyatt Miller: June 4, 2011, 32-year-old Nik Wallenda stood atop the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. As a crowd gathered in the courtyard below, he checked the tension on his steel cable strung to the hotel’s other tower 300 feet away. Glancing down, he saw something that made his heart skip a beat. There on the concrete wall were scratches left by his grandfather’s tightrope 33 years earlier.
Michael Hyatt: Tightrope walking is a family tradition for the Wallendas. Nik is a seventh-generation funambulist, descended from a long line of performers known as the Flying Wallendas. His grandfather, Karl Wallenda, may have been the most daring of all time. At age 65, Karl Wallenda completed a walk across Tallulah Gorge in Georgia, a quarter-mile span some 750 feet above the river below. To wow the 30,000 spectators even further, he stopped midway and performed a headstand on the high wire.
Megan: Karl Wallenda’s last walk was at the Condado Plaza in 1978. Braving winds of up to 30 miles per hour, the 73-year-old daredevil first paused, then sat down on the wire, then fell to his death. Family members later attributed the tragedy to poorly attached guy ropes. The wire had not been properly stabilized, allowing too much sway. He simply didn’t have the strength to manage the added stress.
Michael: Tightrope walking is all about tension. First, the wire itself must be stretched tight, but not too tight. Depending on the length of the span, the riggers may place up to 4,500 pounds of stress on the wire. Even at that, the cable must contain some slack to match the rhythm of the performer’s steps. A perfectly tight wire would be impossible to walk on, and too much sag creates sway.
Megan: Performers must also manage the tensions within their bodies. Since their feet are always in alignment, their center of balance is extremely small. This puts tremendous tension on their ankles. Some high-wire performers extend their arms to widen their center of gravity. Others carry a long pole, relieving some of the pressure on their legs and reducing their rate of sway.
Michael: When all of the stresses are properly managed, sky walkers are able to perform amazing feats. They train in winds of up to 80 miles per hour. They sometimes perform at night or blindfolded or even in the rain. These high achievers have completed walks at heights over 3,000 feet and over distances of well over a quarter mile.
Megan: Stepping onto the wire 121 feet above the Condado Plaza, Nik Wallenda confidently slid one foot forward and began his sky walk. Reaching the spot where his grandfather had fallen, Wallenda paused, looked up to the sky, and blew a kiss. Moments later, he safely reached the other side. “I wasn’t scared at all,” he said.
Michael: For tightrope walkers and leaders who can manage the tensions that go along with high performance, the sky is the limit.
Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.
Megan: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.
Michael: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work, succeed at life, and lead with confidence. In this episode, we’re talking about how to manage a team of high achievers.
Megan: Every leader would love to have a team of all-stars, but we sometimes discourage and frustrate our high performers without even realizing it. In this episode, we’ll show you how to manage the three tensions you face with leading high achievers. We’ll also have a visit from Rory Vaden. He’ll tell us what frustrates high achievers, and we’ll hear from Todd Henry, author of Herding Tigers, on the two things creative people need more than anything else. When we’re done, you’ll have the confidence to lead a highly engaged and productive team that produces way beyond your expectations.
Michael: Hey, before we get started, we’d like to ask you something. If you’re enjoying Lead to Win, if you’ve been listening to it for a few weeks or even longer, would you please leave a review? To make it super easy, you can just go to michaelhyatt.com/reviewit. This helps us so much get more visibility for the program and helps other high achievers just like you find it. Thanks so much.
Megan: Dad, I love that story about high wire and managing tension. We usually think of tension as a bad thing, but apparently the right degree of tension is exactly what you need.
Michael: Yeah, exactly. But before we get into all that, I have to ask you a really practical question. Did you, before last week, know what a funambulist was?
Megan: No. It sounds like a medical condition.
Michael: I know. It means just tightrope walker. Why didn’t we just say “tightrope walker”?
Megan: Because that was so much cooler.
Michael: I know. It was so much cooler. Never use an easy-to-understand word when something complicated will do.
Megan: I think it’s the other way around.
Michael: Oh, is it?
Michael: All right. Tension is really important. It’s exactly what you need if you‘re going to perform at a high level. Tension produces growth. Tension happens when two forces pull in opposite directions. Kind of like stretching a rubber band or a violin string. Business tensions are things like profitability versus growth (there’s always a tension there) or excellence versus having margin. Both are good, and they have to exist in a tension. The key is to manage these tensions in order to grow. I think what happens a lot of times is we want to eliminate one side or the other.
Megan: Totally. Tension is uncomfortable. We should have said that too. That’s just a reality of tension. You sort of feel uncomfortable, so the tendency is to just get rid of it.
Michael: Well, back to the high wire idea. When you’re trying to balance, that’s where you’re taking opposing forces and trying to keep everything in balance at the same time. It’s tough, but it’s a tension that has to be managed, because if you cave to one side or the other you fall off the rope. Boom.
A study in Harvard Business Review found that successful companies thrive because they choose which tensions to manage. Balancing tensions pays off. This is one of the things, as leaders, we have to become aware of. What are the tensions we’re managing? Let’s try to stop eliminating the tension, and let’s just live with it, because a healthy organization is going to have these kinds of tensions in it.
Megan: Part of our job is to increase our tolerance around tension, for one thing. So we know tension is good for an organization, but what about the tension in the leader him- or herself? Some leaders may be intimidated by the prospect of leading high achievers because it creates tension. So they tend to just avoid it. They don’t want to lead people who are smarter than they are or who are really high performers because it creates this internal conflict.
Michael: Some leaders are intimidated by high achievers. They may feel insecure around smarter, more talented people. Some high achievers have a big ego and are arrogant, and that can make the leader uncomfortable. High achievers are ambitious and often push the boundaries. They’re sometimes even known to color outside the lines.
Megan: They can be kind of high maintenance.
Michael: They can be. High-level talent is also expensive to hire.
Megan: That’s true.
Michael: But most of these objections have to do with the leader’s personal growth. A way to reframe it is that if you’re a lifelong learner you’re willing to admit what you don’t know. If you can’t handle a smart, ambitious employee, guess what. You need to grow. Bruna Martinuzzi said, “Hire people who are smarter than you are, whose talents surpass yours, and give them opportunities for growth. It’s the smart thing to do, and it is a sign of personal humility.”
One of the things I’ve observed in companies is that if the leader refuses to hire people smarter than he is or more capable or who are better at execution or better at anything than he is, that’s going to limit the organization. The real key, if you want to grow the organization, if you want to accomplish amazing things, is fill the company with people who are more capable, better educated, more experienced, whatever it is…high achievers who are better than you.
Megan: Otherwise, you become the lid on your own future growth.
Michael: Right. John Maxwell actually talks about this in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, where he talks about the law of the lid. The organization is not going to rise above you unless you’re willing to let it rise above you by hiring those smarter people.
Megan: Here’s a little secret we probably all know but don’t want to admit as leaders: we’re only good at a couple of things. I mean really good.
Michael: It’s true.
Megan: No one is great at everything they need to be great at to make a business or an idea succeed.
Michael: Speaking of John Maxwell (this goes back several years), I was John’s publisher for a number of years. I remember him in a team meeting with his team. He just flat-out said, “There are only a couple of things I do well. Everything else my team does.” We had asked him to do something he wasn’t comfortable doing, and it wasn’t a matter of personal growth, because John is very committed to personal growth. It was just that he knew what his limitations are. You’re too young to remember this, but there’s this great Clint Eastwood movie called Magnum Force, where he shoots this bad guy, and then he says…
Clint Eastwood: A man’s got to know his limitations.
Megan: Dad, tell me what you think of this. I’ve heard A-level leaders hire A-level subordinates. B-level leaders hire C-level subordinates.
Michael: I think that’s totally true, and I think, as a leader, you have to decide what you are. Are you an A player or are you a B player? One of the indicators is how comfortable you are with hiring A-level talent. If you avoid that, you’re probably not an A-level player, because A-level players learn to get comfortable with hiring A-level subordinates. If they don’t do that, they know their team is not going to win in a big way. The team is going to be limited to their own abilities, and they’re going to be what Jim Collins calls the genius with a thousand helpers versus a collaborative team where everybody has amazing skills and abilities.
Megan: Dynamic tension is something we know a lot about here at Michael Hyatt & Company, because we’ve been assembling a team of rock-star contributors for the last five years. We’re up to about 30 people and counting. I think actually we’re a little over that now. Today we’re going to identify three tensions we deal with in leading high performers. What’s the first one?
Michael: The first tension is doing versus leading. You have to manage this tension (and sometimes it’s a temptation) between doing the work yourself and directing others. Leaders are often high performers themselves, and we want things done with absolute, uncompromising excellence. We know what to do. We know how to do it. So the tension on the one side is micromanaging. Everybody has to do it exactly like we would have done it.
I worked for a guy years ago, actually my first editorial job ever… He micromanaged me to death. I was so excited about working for him, but I literally stayed in that job six months and left, because he would get together with me at the end of the day and say, “Hey, let’s run through what you did today.” I’m like, “Well, what do you mean?” He said, “I want to know what you do, like hour by hour.”
Megan: Like a play-by-play.
Michael: At first I thought, “Well, maybe he wants to get a sense of where I’m spending my time,” so I went along for a few days. No. It was every single day. When I objected to it, he said, “Well, why don’t you just give it to me in writing, then? That would be easier.” Really? I’m going to spend time writing up a report at the end of the day? That’s what I’m talking about, micromanaging. It communicates a lack of trust. That’s ultimately why I left. I felt like, “He doesn’t trust me.”
Megan: Okay, I have a question for you. This is a real challenge I’ve faced personally as a leader. It’s not my inclination so much to micromanage, but I’ve seen other people do it. I probably struggle more on what we’re going to talk about in a minute, which is abdicating. But why do you think people micromanage, and what is the appropriate level of direction to give someone? How do you know when you’ve begun to micromanage and when your expectations have become unreasonable?
Michael: I think your job is to articulate the outcome, what it is you want, and not how they accomplish it. There are a thousand and one ways to accomplish something, and when you start getting into the specifics of how they do the job and that you want it done the way you always did it… What if they came up with a way to do it that’s better than the way you did it?
Megan: So you’re holding people accountable to the results, not the process.
Michael: That’s right. That’s why in our business we have a form called a project vision caster that we use, which enables somebody who’s in a position of leadership to articulate the vision or the outcome they want but gives complete freedom to the person who’s receiving that delegation to improvise, to use this method or that method.
Now, if they ask me, “Well, do you have any advice on how you want it done or how you’ve done it in the past?” yeah. But I always make it clear it doesn’t have to be done this way. There may be another way to do it. I’ll give you an example. Back in the early days, when I was first recording my first podcast (which was called This Is Your Life, which is still on iTunes), I did everything. I did the show prep. I did the recording. I did the editing. I did the posting. I did the show notes.
Megan: That’s a lot of work.
Michael: I did everything. It was taking me two full days a week. It was a lot of work. So I decided this was unsustainable, that if I was going to learn to love podcasting again I was going to have to figure out “What is the thing only I can do?” and get focused on that. Well, for me, that’s delivering the content. I didn’t need to do the editing of the podcast, and I certainly didn’t need to be posting it or doing the show notes.
But I thought to myself, “Before I actually delegate this to somebody, I’d like to document what I’m doing.” So I did that. I documented in Evernote a complete list of everything I did to produce the show. Then I handed it to somebody I hired on a contract basis, and I said, “Here’s how I’ve been doing it. Feel free to deviate from this. What I’m interested in is the quality of the show. However you get to that… I don’t care if you use the software I’ve been using or use something different. It doesn’t matter. I’m really interested in the outcome.” Does that make sense?
Megan: It does. That’s very different. You’re suggesting a possible success path, but they can figure out a new one if it’s better.
Michael: That’s right. I don’t want them to have to reinvent the wheel if they don’t have to. I’ll tell you the other thing, by the way, of having done it yourself and then delegating it. Then at least you have a better basis for evaluating their work. You know what I’m saying?
Megan: Right. It helps you have a more reasonable expectation.
Michael: It does.
Rory Vaden: Hey there. It’s Rory Vaden, cofounder of Southwestern Consulting and New York Times best-selling author of Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time. When we were conducting the interviews of the multipliers for Procrastinate on Purpose, in the chapter on delegate there was one interview where somebody said two things that radically changed my life and stuck with me.
The first thing they said was, “My job as the leader is not necessarily to do; my job as the leader is to make sure it gets done.” The second thing they said was, “You have to remember that 80 percent accurate done by someone else is almost always better than 100 percent accurate done by me.” Wow! Those are powerful and radical insights and a little bit different from what we might always hear. That is why we call the corresponding permission of delegate the permission of imperfect.
The ability to let other people do comes from releasing yourself of the emotional drive for perfection, that emotional need to do everything perfectly, which means you let go of the need to do everything yourself, because 80 percent done by someone else is almost always better than 100 percent done by you. I absolutely love it. It’s a game changer, and it reminds me of what one of my favorite teachers and pastors, Andy Stanley, had to say. He said, “You have to remember that leadership is not about getting things done right. Leadership is about getting things done through other people.”
Michael: So the tension on the other side is not too much direction. That’s micromanaging. The opposite of that is abdication. You said you’ve been guilty of that. I think that’s where I tend to be guilty too. I don’t micromanage. I tend to delegate and then abdicate.
Megan: This is where sometimes we don’t even delegate properly. We actually just expect mind reading.
Michael: Which is horrible.
Megan: Which is the worst of the worst of the worst. As it turns out, no one has cracked that code yet.
Michael: That’s right. It’s very easy to fall into that assumption and then get very frustrated with people because they can’t read your mind.
Megan: This is how you can really not set somebody up for success by just sort of leaving them to their own devices to maybe not even have clarity about the results you expect, much less how to get there. You just sort of say, “Make it happen” and walk away.
Michael: Well, this goes back to the principle I often talk about, at least in our activation workshops, the 10-80-10 principle. I want to be involved in the front 10 percent, somebody else is going to do the rest of it, the 80 percent of it, and then I want to be involved in the back 10 percent where I’m going to inspect what I’ve delegated.
Megan: And provide necessary input for that person to land the plane successfully.
Michael: And I’m probably going to want to sample the brew along the process, especially when it’s a new delegation or a delegation to somebody who’s brand new. I want to make sure that before they get too far along in the process what they’re delivering is going to be up to my standards.
Megan: What I hear you saying is that the balance is found in defining the outcomes without prescribing the methods.
Michael: Exactly right. Tell them what to achieve, not how to achieve it. Part of what you have to do is give people autonomy. Daniel Pink talks about this in his book Drive. It’s one of the three factors that are critically important in people feeling job satisfaction. They have to have a sense of relative autonomy. When you start dictating to them not only what to do but how to do it, there’s no room for their creativity. There’s no room for them to think or to grow. It ends up being a lack of energy for them. They’re not energized by that. The easy way to do it is just say, “Here’s what I’m after. Good luck. Make it happen.”
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Megan: Okay. The first tension is doing versus leading. As leaders, we find the balance by defining outcomes without prescribing methods. What’s the second tension, Dad?
Michael: The second tension is now versus later. In other words, you must manage the tension between short-term and long-term results.
Megan: This is tough.
Michael: It’s very tough. Sir Isaac Newton said, “I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore and diverting myself now and then in finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” In other words, we can get so engrossed in the right now (and it’s so tempting to do in business) we don’t take into account the big picture. Or we can be so fixated on delivering a great product next year…
Megan: Or something shiny and new.
Michael: …we don’t generate any revenue this month. We just had this conversation yesterday with our executive team.
Megan: As it turns out, it’s something we struggle with. I think every leader struggles with this. You’re probably naturally given either more to the present or the future, and I would say a lot of leaders are naturally oriented toward the future. That’s where all the exciting, fun, shiny stuff is that doesn’t have any limitations or constraints attached to it yet, so it’s easier for all of us to focus on that stuff rather than on executing what we have to in the present. The tension is it’s kind of like we’re always running the business we have and building the business we’re going to have simultaneously.
Michael: Right. It’s like a set of glasses where one of the lenses is focused on the distance and the other one is focused on things that are up close. Like in our executive team meeting yesterday where we were talking about it, you made the point of saying, “Look, we have a great plan to achieve the budget, even exceed the budget we have, but if we’re not careful with all of these ideas…” We have a very creative group.
“…we’re going to get distracted. It’s going to pull us off mission, and we’re going to lose focus and fumble the ball and not even achieve our budget.” The problem is those things are tempting in the moment, because you think, “Wow, this is a great way to even exceed our budget,” but you risk the budget itself.
Megan: At the same time, you can’t totally forget about them.
Michael: Right. So now and later are in constant tension. Short-term, you may have the best idea because of your experience; long-term, it’s better for the team to struggle to produce a new concept. Short-term, your upper management will pressure you to stay on budget; long-term, it’s better to give your creative team the resources they need.
Short-term, you need to measure objective results, deadlines, deliverabilities, and profit, but long-term, you need to monitor subjective values like morale and engagement and team health. So there’s this constant tension that’s not going to go away that you have to manage between the short-term and the long-term, because both categories matter: now and later.
Megan: It’s funny. As a leader, I often feel like if I’m succeeding I have less tension in my life, less tension between these two things as I’m leading other leaders. It’s helpful to remember that’s not the right definition of success. The tension is never going to go away, and it’s all about artfully managing it, kind of like that high-wire act. It’s not about trying to eliminate the now or the future or whatever the tension of the moment is, because that’s just part of the job.
Michael: This is probably true in any kind of organization. It’s easy to get focused on the now, because you have to survive. You have to make it through the short-term if you’re going to have any kind of long-term, but I think it’s up to us, as leaders, in whatever context we find ourselves… Nobody is going to say, “Hey, why don’t you take a couple of days off and focus on the long-term?” We have to fight for that. We have to find the time to stay focused on the long-term without losing focus on the short-term. Again, we’re right back to the tension.
Megan: So the second tension in leading high achievers is managing the balance between now and later and being willing to make frequent adjustments between the two so you maintain that balance. It’s harder than it looks, and if you focus on one over the other you’re going to have a problem. That brings us to our third tension.
Michael: The third tension is goal versus gap. These are two things you have to maintain in tension.
Megan: Man! I feel like you’re coaching me right now, because this is my life.
Michael: I know. Well, it is for all of us. You have to manage this tension between where you are and where you want to be, and you have to help the high achievers in your organization manage this as well. The gap, just to be clear, is the difference between where you are and where you want to be. There’s always a gap for high achievers. Why? Because they’re always imagining a new goal post. Every time they achieve one goal it moves. It’s always bigger. It’s always a bigger increase. It’s a bigger sale. It’s something that’s out in the future that creates a gap between where we are in the present, and there’s always a gap if you’re goal oriented.
This tension is vital, but it can also be dangerous. High achievers are keenly aware of the gap, but they want to be challenged. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, having meaningful work and opportunities to use their skills and abilities are two of the three conditions for employee engagement, along with relationships with coworkers. You want goals in the discomfort zone (as I talk a lot about in Your Best Year Ever) to keep people motivated. If they’re just in the comfort zone, they don’t really ignite our imagination or compel our best performance.
Megan: Especially as a high achiever. It’s just boring.
Michael: Totally. They’re forgettable. So in organizations where they set goals that are in the comfort zone, that’s the best way to run off the high achievers.
Megan: It has to be hard.
Michael: It has to be hard. Not too hard. It can’t be in the delusional zone, but it has to be in the discomfort zone. They have to have a reasonable sense that “Okay, it’s in my discomfort zone, but I have a chance at this, and it’s going to be meaningful.” If they start to live in the gap, though, they get demotivated. We’ve experienced this a lot in our organization, where we set a big goal out there and maybe we didn’t quite achieve it. So what happens psychologically?
Megan: Oftentimes what happens is you have leaders who become scared to set big goals. That might not be the word they would use. Hesitant is probably a better word. They feel hesitant about that. I’ve experienced that myself. I think all of us have experienced that. In our company, we win a lot, but we miss a lot too. It’s just sort of the nature of goal setting in general. You’re educated guessing, and there are going to be times you win and times you don’t.
One of the things I’ve found really important as a leader when I’m coaching the leaders on my team is to model how I think about the times we miss, because they’re going to turn right to me, either literally or in maybe more subtle fashion that if I’m not looking for it I miss, to see how I respond. What they’re really asking is if I consider it a failure and if I consider them a failure.
Michael: That’s the question behind the question.
Megan: And what does it mean if I think they failed or if they think they failed? I have this conversation often. I had it even last week, just talking with someone about it’s important to analyze… It’s easy to miss goals and think there’s some kind of connection between those things, and usually, speaking for myself, the connection I see as a problem is me and my own leadership. “There’s something wrong with me. That’s why I’ve missed in this goal.”
Michael: All leaders do that, and all high achievers especially do it.
Megan: We all do it. If you’re listening and you do it, welcome to the club. You’re normal. The really important thing is to recognize there usually are subtle differences between those misses that are important to recognize. Maybe the goal was not set well to begin with. Maybe there was something you didn’t know when you said it or somebody else said it for you before you were even there and it wasn’t a fair setup to begin with. You need to take that into account.
Maybe there was something that was outside of your control that happened. Maybe there was something inside of your control where it’s an opportunity for growth. Regardless, it’s all just learning, and it’s very important, as a leader leading other leaders, to model that. There’s no real risk of failure for your people. There are only opportunities for learning. If people feel like it’s life and death, which is what it can feel like if failure is on the line, then they’ll stop setting big goals, and then you just might as well throw in the towel.
Michael: Yeah, they’ll shut down. We’ve quoted Dan Sullivan on this, and I don’t think anyone has said this more articulately than he has when he talks about measuring the gap versus the gain. I think this is critically important in those situations you described. That is, as a leader, you can focus on the gap (how much they missed) or how much they gained. When you’re trying to lead a team, it’s critically important… First of all, acknowledging the gap is fine. I have no problem with that.
Megan: Actually, that’s really important, because if you don’t acknowledge it people will think you’re a Pollyanna leader and they can’t trust you to say what’s true. You have to be transparent and truthful or you lose trust.
Michael: That’s right. But having said that, you can’t stay in the gap. This is where Dan talks about measuring the gain. We may have missed that million-dollar campaign we set out to by $100,000, but we had a $900,000 campaign, and what’s great about that? What did we learn? How did we grow? What did we achieve? What’s a benefit to our customers? That builds confidence and enables people to set even bigger goals in the future.
If you create a culture where you focus on the gap and take retribution on the people because they didn’t close that gap and only reward people if they exceed the goal, then people are going to just set lower and lower goals. I’ve seen this happen in organizations over and over again. The goals get so low they become manageable, but then even those goals are missed because they’re not compelling.
Megan: I have two thoughts that just occurred to me while you were talking about things I think are critical in managing high achievers that if we boil a lot of this stuff down it comes down to. One is protecting their confidence. I’d love for you to talk a little bit about the importance of protecting the confidence of the people you lead, because I think that’s really, really important.
Michael: Again, Dan has also mentioned this, so I want to give credit where credit is due, but I know this is true experientially in my own life. When you come off something where you just crushed it, some kind of business goal or personal goal, and you’re feeling the confidence, what happens? You set bigger goals. You attack them with more vigor. You’re just more excited. When you come off something where you’ve missed and your self-confidence is waning, you kind of retreat. You get up all in your head, and you’re not focused on the goal.
Megan: Raise your hand if you’ve been there. I’m raising my hand.
Michael: And you stumble. So protecting your confidence… This is what Dan says in relationship to entrepreneurs, but I would say it’s in reference to any kind of leader. Protecting your confidence is critically important. Again, that doesn’t mean you can’t acknowledge failure and where you fall short, but you have to process that in a way that builds your confidence. For example, if you fail in something and you get new information…you know what doesn’t work now…you’re going to be more confident, if you process in the right way, to tackle it the next time, because guess what. Now you know something that doesn’t work.
Megan: As a leader who is leading high achievers, you can do this for your team by calling these things out, by affirming them in the people you are leading, to remind them of what’s true, of where they’ve won. Whether it’s sending a handwritten note, whether it’s sending an email, whether it’s taking them out to lunch after they’ve missed… These are really important things. As a leader, these are kind of the soft skills that, especially with high achievers, you need to be cultivating in your own leadership to effectively manage them.
Michael: Where the rubber meets the road on this… In my leadership of you, for example, one of the things I try to keep you focused on is the goals, which, frankly, doesn’t take a lot of work because you’re so stinkin’ goal oriented yourself that you’re already focused on it, but where I do make a contribution is in building your confidence and giving voice, saying out loud what I see, that you’re leading well, that you’re killing it, because you have those voices in your own head that rattle around, and it’s probably even amplified given the fact that I’m your father. But for me to just be able to say to you, “Hey, you’re doing great work. I’m so proud of you.” We all need to hear that.
Megan: Here’s what’s true about anybody who’s a high achiever on your team, whether it’s me in the example you’ve just given or people who report to me or other people who are listening in the situation. Whoever you have on your team who’s a high performer is probably on the edge of their own experience. They’re pushing so hard they’re always on kind of the razor’s edge, as far as they’ve ever been, and what that means is they only have enough confidence to get there. They only have enough gas to get them to the next stop sign. So as the person leading those people, you can make a huge contribution if you put a little fuel in their tank that helps them go the next mile.
Michael: And it costs you nothing. Just get out of your own head, start noticing what’s happening around you, and affirm the people you’re leading.
Megan: That reminds me of the second thing I was going to say. High achievers need to know you’re for them. They need to feel like you’re on the same side of the table. If they feel that way, then they will perform at an even higher level, and I think that’s what you get out of this affirmation.
Michael: I would go even a little further. The one thing high achievers want more than anything is to win, and unless there’s somebody telling them they’re winning they’re wondering, and if they’re wondering they’re hesitant, and if they’re hesitant they’re not achieving like they could achieve.
Megan: That’s good.
Michael: So to focus on the fact that they’re winning is critically important. It’s easy to think, “Well, they just do it for the big commissions or for the promotion.” No, they don’t. I mean, there are all kinds of motivations. I get that. It’s a mix. But I would say, by and large, these people want to be noticed. They want to know they’re winning.
Megan: Winning is its own reward.
Michael: Winning is its own reward. It’s not the trips. It’s not the big car. It’s not any of that. It’s just they want to know they’re winning. That fuels even greater accomplishments in the future. One of the books we’ve been going through in LeaderBox is a book called Herding Tigers by Todd Henry. I really like what he has to say about what fuels creative people.
Todd Henry: When you’re managing highly creative people, highly talented people, they primarily need two things from you: stability and challenge. By stability, I mean they need to have clear boundaries around their creative process so they can be effective in channeling their focus, their time, and their energy. There’s a common myth about highly creative people that says something like this: “They only want complete freedom. No boundaries.” But it’s not true.
Complete freedom is not useful when you’re creating on demand under time and budget constraints. Rather, your team needs clear expectations or rails from you, and they need to know the terms of engagement aren’t going to shift halfway through the project. Also they need you to protect them from the chaos of the organization, to get buy-in from key stakeholders along the way so there aren’t surprises, and to guard the time they need in order to do deep creative work.
Orson Welles once quipped that the enemy of art is the absence of limitations. Healthy creativity is bounded creativity. The highly creative people on your team need you to set effective rails within which they can channel their energy. This is what stability is all about. However, that’s only half of what they need. They also need challenge. This means they want to be pushed. They want to take risks. They want to try new things, and they want to discover their own unique capabilities. They need the leader to challenge them to be better than they think they can be.
They need permission from you to take risks and to know you’ll have their back if they fail. They also need to know you see them, that you understand what makes them tick and what makes them unique, and that you are rooting for them to succeed. There is such a tremendous amount of risk involved in doing highly complex creative work, so the talented people on your team need to know you see them taking those risks and that you’re in the thick of it with them. You’re right there with them, shoulder to shoulder, and you have their back.
The problem with this stability/challenge dynamic is that they exist in tension with one another. As you stabilize the organization you tend to decrease the amount of perceived challenge the team experiences, and as you ramp up the challenge you tend to destabilize the organization because you’re introducing chaos. It’s up to you, as a leader, to understand what each individual team member needs from you at any given moment in order to thrive.
One person might feel the need to have a higher degree of challenge during a season in order to be fully engaged while another person needs constant reassurance that you have their back. You need to know your team members well enough to be able to adjust the dials of stability and challenge for them so they have an environment in which they can thrive.
Megan: So today we’ve learned that leading a team of high achievers is all about managing the creative tensions that drive performance. As we come in for a landing, I just want to remind you that these tensions are not problems to be eliminated. They actually make growth possible. When you learn to balance these creative necessities your team will thrive. Dad, any final thoughts?
Michael: I just would say you guys can do this. You can manage high achievers. Don’t be afraid of them. Bring in people who are smarter, more experienced, more capable than you are, and your whole organization will rise.
Megan: As we close, I want to thank our sponsor LeaderBox. It provides automated personal development in a box. Check it out at leaderbox.com.
Michael: If you enjoyed today’s episode, you can get the show notes and a full transcript online at leadto.win.
Megan: We’d also like to thank our guests today, Rory Vaden and Todd Henry.
Michael: Thank you for joining us on Lead to Win. If you like the show, please tell your friends and colleagues about it. Also, please leave a review. To make it really simple, just go to michaelhyatt.com/reviewit.
Megan: The program is copyrighted by Michael Hyatt & Company. All rights reserved. Our producer is Nick Jaworski.
Michael: Our writers are Joel Miller and Lawrence Wilson.
Megan: Our recording engineer is Mike Burns.
Michael: Our production assistant is Aleshia Curry.
Megan: Our intern is Winston.
Michael: We invite you to join us next week when we’ll show you how to keep meetings from ruining your productivity. Until then, lead to win.