The late comedian George Burns had a great comeback when asked for advice on acting. He’d say, “It’s simple: if they tell you to sit down and you sit down, that’s ‘good acting’. If they tell you to sit down and you’re still standing up, that’s ‘bad acting.’”
I often mentally paraphrase George with my team, saying, “I try to always perform at a high level, and expect you to also perform at a high level.” But what does that mean? Simply this: If your boss tells you to do something and you do it, that’s ‘performing at a high level.’ If your boss tells you to do something and you don’t do it, that’s ‘not performing at a high level.’
Now let’s define it further. Performing — or executing — has unique qualifiers depending on the employee type. Each type is capable of performing at a high level or low level. But in order to effectively manage, you must identify the category of employee you’re directing. Here are the three basic layers:
- Workers. A worker is someone who is given direction, then follows it. Whether a vice-president or custodian, they remain static until given a specific task. They’ll only do what they’re told, and require follow-up. Never looking at a situation holistically, workers tackle the one task assigned while ignoring surrounding issues. Thus the worker’s supervisor must check-in to assign those ancillary tasks the worker missed. Upon hitting an obstacle, the worker stops until given the solution to overcoming that challenge. When asked whether a task is accomplished, the worker presents all of the reasons why it hasn’t. The worker’s supervisor must resolve these issues one-by-one, so the worker can complete the task.
Workers tend to be bread-and-butter employees: showing-up when they’re told to, accomplishing tasks they’ve been instructed to, in the manner with which they’ve been trained. For low-level positions, the worker style is perfectly adequate, provided a well-established structure surrounds them. The challenge begins when a worker personality inhabits a higher-level position, or an entrepreneurial job. You’ll often see people in top positions who were simply good workers that’d been promoted. This creates friction, as superiors are frustrated with the constant follow-up workers require.
- Managers. Managers do just that: Manage a particular domain. They are assigned an area of responsibility (AOR), and focus their energies within that sandbox. Managers have the skill and experience to stay mindful of everything they’re responsible for. They’ve developed shorthand for their AOR, and will mold each task to fit their honed techniques. When a challenge is presented typical of their AOR, managers have a toolbox of solutions to overcome it, and bristle at suggestion of a different tactic. They know what they know, and are good at their job. But they struggle with anything that falls outside their usual purview. That’s when progress will stop as they compile all of the reasons they were unable to accomplish an objective. Thus when a manager is given a challenge outside their AOR, they require significant follow-up, as they tend to revert to their usual routine instead of performing creative execution. Like workers, managers often suffer from “Not My Job” syndrome, ignoring anything beyond their AOR.
- Leaders. Leaders are the driving force behind innovation and creative execution within the business. They have great situational awareness, noticing little things as well as big ones. Although leaders tend to work at the 30,000-ft. level, driving the overall direction and inspiring others toward the same goals, they will also zoom-down to tackle a particular challenge. These are the employees who don’t merely do what they’re told or manage what they’re responsible for — they do what’s best for the company, period. Leaders focus on creative problem solving: Delivering solutions to challenges that leave the other two archetypes stymied. Leaders never quit. They are always driving themselves and everyone else toward overall goals.
Here’s the most important takeaway: Job title does NOT define employee type. There are plenty of COO’s and SVP’s who are “Worker” types, and there are plenty of lot porters and carpenters who are “Leader” types. The performance archetype is totally irrespective of position and pay grade. I’ve met business owners who were much happier turning wrenches, because big-picture leadership was something they just weren’t comfortable with. And I’ve met front-line salespeople who inspired and led an entire company. The key is identifying them (and yourself) so you can understand how to best manage and develop the group. Although the ultimate goal should be converting workers into managers, and managers into leaders, it’s often unrealistic. So in addition to developing people, look for the leaders hiding among minions, and the workers buried in the boardroom…
Once you’ve defined your team, educate them on what high-level performance means. Then you won’t be as frustrated when a bunch of people you’ve asked to sit down are still standing around looking confused.
Chris Clovis has had the honor and pleasure of 25 years in the Powersports Industry, currently serving as Vice-President of Eaglerider Motorcycles [www.eaglerider.com]. Chris’ opinions are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of his employer, publisher, or clients.