Leaders Struggle with the “10%”

posted in: Passion, Positivity 0

These posts, and thousands of books, explore ways to engage and lead others better. Let’s be clear; these techniques and skills work for the vast majority of folks. But not for all of them. We are plagued by “The Ten Percent.”

It seems so common, that we might call it a general rule; in any organization, there seems to be an irrationally positive 10%, and a perplexingly negative 10%. The majority – the 80% – those are the people who need and respond to leadership.

Leaders seek out techniques to improve engagement and productivity all the time, but sometimes obsess about applying them to that bottom 10%. When they hit a brick wall, they can say “Well, that doesn’t work. What a waste of time and training.”

Obsession with the “bottom 10%” is dangerous on a couple levels:

1) The leader is discouraged and plagued with doubt and skepticism.

2) The other 90% are ignored, and/or annoyed, that the leader/supervisor/manager is giving so darn much attention to people who just “don’t care.”

Leaders are wise to focus their developmental efforts on the rest of the organization instead.

In fact, it sometimes surprises groups when I recommend that they focus on top performers first. But that makes sense for a couple reasons:

1) The leader develops confidence and deepens skills by practicing their developmental techniques on the willing and receptive.

2) Team morale improves when they see the leader so engaged, and their development efforts so well-received.

So, what to do about the bottom 10%? Well, if we’re talking about direct reports, it’s time to start getting them out the door. If they’re volunteers on your committee, or for your non-profit endeavor, it makes sense to ignore them, unless they are actively destructive. But first – a caution:

You must try everything you can to rehabilitate them. That’s the only way to be SURE that they are the bottom 10%. If you work at it, you’ll be able to determine this quickly. But, you must try. My favorite flow chart for this endeavor is on page 109 of Coaching for Improved Work Performance.

What do you think?

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