From Valued to Vanished: 10 Ways to Lose a Key Team Member

 In Blind Spots, Leadership Advice

I considered calling this article “Everything you learned about leadership from your parents or sports coach is wrong,” but that seemed harsh.

Yet, it’s true.

Much of what neuroscientists have taught us about top performance in the past five years pretty much negates everything we thought we knew about how to inspire consistent greatness in your team. As an executive coach, I get real-time access to the mistakes that high-level leaders make when leading a superstar, or top-performing team member.

Here is a List of Top 10 Ways to Unintentionally Lose a Star Performer

1. Give a tough review, because “everyone needs to improve” on something.

If you have a top performer on your hands, the smart thing is to give a great review. It’s basic brain science—reward the behaviors you want repeated. Being a “tough grader” or finding some area of improvement for the sake of encouraging more good work is backwards and will often backfire, dampening motivation to improve.

2. Neglect to acknowledge excellence.

When was the last time you fully acknowledged and recognized excellence? Overachievers crave recognition but will never ask for it. Give it and watch what happens.

3. Allow mediocrity or toxicity to continue in your department.

That slacker or toxic personality you have on your team is slowly killing the motivation of the high-functioning members of your team. I know, I know—they are a warm body, and you cannot afford to let them go. Or perhaps they have institutional knowledge or a relationship with your biggest client. Just know that the price you are paying by keeping them is likely higher than replacing them or ceasing to allow their bad behavior would be.

4. Take credit for their work.

This is gross. You know it’s gross. You know when you are doing it. Everyone knows when you are doing it, and it is killing the respect you may deserve. Stop doing it. Instead, amplify others. Go far to give public recognition and credit.

5. Be a poor decision-maker or rescind your decisions after the fact.

This leadership crime can look like waiting so long to make a decision that harm is caused by the delay; waffling on key decisions; or making a decision (which is just like a promise) and then rescinding that decision due to political implications or lack of information on your part. Not good.

6. Make assumptions about motivations.

So, you think Derek is leaving early because his wife has a big job and he has to pick up their kids? Or that Holly has a trust fund and is not really motivated to work hard? Leaders carry these dangerous assumptions like they are fact. A better idea is to have dialogue and ask appropriate questions about the work product and performance and resist the temptation to fill in the blanks with your guesses about motivation—we rarely guess correctly.

7. Be unresponsive or chronically unavailable.

Here’s the thing—leaders lead. If your team has no access to you, or access is only intermittent, then you are not leading. Figure out a way to make time for your team. Period.

8. Blow off one-to-ones, or be super distracted during them.

The hidden meaning of the one-to-one is, “I am here for you, and I am paying attention to you!” So, if you are constantly rescheduling one-to-ones or multitasking during that time, then you are essentially saying you do not care. Do what you need to do to keep these meetings and pay attention. Make them shorter or less frequent if necessary—but fix this bad habit.

9. Be the bottleneck.

This is where your lack of time management or stress management causes work that requires your feedback or approval to build up, causing a bottleneck in the projects or process of your team. Make it a priority to be more responsive and keep things moving.

10. Micromanage top performers.

Micromanagement is a current epidemic. Here is the better formula… If someone is new, new to the project, or not performing, then absolutely set up an accountability plan and spend more time with them in the details of the work. For everyone else, be a better communicator about expectations and then let them do their thing.

If you read this list and none apply to you—Congratulations! However, if one or more apply to you, then it might be time to bring it up in a team meeting and vow to change your ways—the payoff for fixing some of these habits can be worth the discomfort of change.


“The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.”
– Padmasree Warrior (CEO & Founder, Fable)

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