From the moment I started leading teams, I was attracted to the top performers. (yeah, I know, spoken like a true sales leader). But for me, it wasn’t their performance that was the attraction…it was their thought process, the way they approach their customers, a project, their life. A top performer has special set of skills that allows them to see opportunities that others do not. It’s not magic, just fundamentally a different point of view. The other thing that tends to come with top performers is an eccentric approach to their job – and sometimes dysfunctional approach. I believe this stems from this same skill – seeing what others do not, and disregarding them as inferior because they do not see it. Top performers are direct, only spend time on what matters most and they ignore anything and everything that detracts them from their primary goal. It also means anything they don’t consider personally valuable to them or their customer, they just don’t do. You may have read a previous article I wrote An Elite Set of Skills. These types of salespeople I am most attracted to is probably because that’s how I showed up as a young salesperson in the tech industry — we can smell our own.
So, what is it that truly motivates a top performer? What attracts them? What makes them stay? Most importantly, what makes them quit? Most of us have quit a job before at some point in our career, and if you really break down the reasons why, it almost always, solely falls on the relationship with your manager.
All leaders have the burden of managing leadership action and inaction simultaneously. The best leaders understand how to use both appropriately and in the right proportion.
LEADERSHIP IS A RESPONSIBILITY
Leading people is an extraordinary responsibility, as it affects the people you lead as well as their family. Leadership affects livelihood and future and health. I recruit every week – always looking for that next top performer. Some of my recent conversations have blown me away. As much as I love the opportunity to be speaking with top performers, what really has me perplexed is how pervasive poor leadership is. How can so many leaders be disconnected from their people and their people’s needs? Employment relationships should not have surprises, yet every week I am sitting in front of a top performer talking confidentially about wanting something better than they currently have. Or more specifically, wanting better leadership. It got me thinking about the many conversations I have had as well as my own experiences. You may have read a recent article I wrote #LeadershipMatters.
Top performers know they possess a skill as well as when others do not. Top performers don’t proactively offer to share these skills as it is a detractor from their primary goal. However, if you ask them to share and to teach, nearly all of them will leap to the task. Top performers love to believe they are different. They love to believe the way they do it is special. Most importantly, they love to share why they are different and why what they do makes them successful. Embrace it! Include them! Giving them a platform is part of creating that loyalty. A leader shouldn’t be the most talented person on the team. Quite contrary, good leaders hire a team of people better than themselves. Great leaders leverage the talents from each of the top performers to elevate the overall performance of the team.
“You don’t need more territory, you already make enough money!”
As a general statement, financial reward is the primary tool for motivating field sales organizations. While nearly all salespeople will tell you that money is all they care about, there are usually other important, and in some cases more important, areas of motivation; recognition, mentorship, promotion, experience, power, influence. I recently spoke to someone who is a 7-figure earner that was looking to make a job change. This person felt completely minimized, disregarded and not up for consideration for future growth for the sole reason of this person’s earnings and current role contribution to the business. Ultimately, top performers go to work around other top performers. They go to where they are appreciated. They go where they have a voice. If any of those are missing, they eventually leave. After all, we all just want to be understood by others that understand.
“You have had enough recognition and we need others to be on the leader board”
I almost fell out of my chair when I heard this one. Seriously, criticizing someone for being #1 more than once? On a simple plain, the comment makes sense, but we don’t live in a world that resides on a simple plain. I’d argue the criticism should be placed on the leader themselves. If you have a single top performance, that’s the talent of that person alone. If the team delivers a top performance, then it’s the talent of the leader. The rest of the organization needs to be driven to rise to the occasion, not the other way around. For a top performer, increase the scope of what you are asking, maybe they will surprise you. Give them additional responsibilities and if they continue to be successful, reward them again. Use them as an example for the rest of the group and work to determine how to enable them to perform at a competitive level. What a way to squash the spirit of a top performer.
“Slow down young man”
I had someone say this to me in my first management role. I was young, ambitious, new at my job and for better or worse making bold and creative moves. My more experienced colleagues didn’t quite understand and some thought I was crazy for running as fast as I was, making statements I could only aspire to back up. No matter if I was right or wrong, successful or not, what a disaster of a comment! Spoiler Alert, we were successful. That year, our team was number one worldwide. That person has since become more friendly and in fact has asked me for career help in the years that past since.
“Keep doing what you are doing”
Early in my career, I was interviewing for my first management role. As I was being offered the job, a senior leader stepped in and attempted to block my promotion. The reason wasn’t because I wasn’t qualified or the right person for the job — it was because I had figured out how to sell to a very challenging account, which no one prior had figured out how to do. The senior leader suggested to keep me in my old role as to not disrupt the account.
“You don’t punish employees for doing a great job, you promote them. It’s on the leadership team to determine how to replicate the success of a promoted employee.”
One of my first leadership lessons. Many times, since, I have been posed with the same proposition: keep a top performer in the job that is most convenient for me or promote them and create a backfill problem for myself. 100% of the times, I have promoted my people and taken on the burden of the backfill — 100% of the time it has worked out better than I could have planned. Where would I be today had I not received that job or support from my manager? Would I be here?
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, ‘We did it ourselves.’” – Lao Tzu
A SEAT AT THE TABLE
All employees want to participate in the decisions that affect them. Logically, giving this voice to top performers is low hanging fruit. However, in practice, too often top performers are put in a box to “keep doing what they are doing.” Top performers want to be inspired. Top performers want to inspire! Never forget people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses. Making a top performer feel left out is a formula for losing them, and plainly just irresponsible leadership. But, this to me is still the wrong way to view it. The very distinct and different thought process the top performer possesses is an extremely valuable asset. The different lens they use, the different path they take, can contribute an incredible amount of value to the company and the people around them. After all, we want constant and never ending improvement, right? Top performers are the people you want on the front lines solving your most challenging problems. Top performers are the people that truly make a difference at the companies that embrace them. Top performers are the people you promote! If you could attract and employ a large group of these top performers in the same company….wow…you would have built something amazing, with the trajectory of a rocket ship.