Help star players make better moves

Question: I have an employee who outshines all the others and have been trying to bring all of them up to his level but haven't had much success?

Answer: Suppose your employee is nearly as talented in your field as Michael Jordan was in his. Have you been able to bring out the best in that worker? Is he at his top performance?

Probably not. Sorry to say, but most bosses are better suited to manage mediocrity than promoting talent.

Now suppose basketball players were managed like white-collar workers and you were in charge rather than Phil Jackson. Some were good, some were mediocre, some were downright awful. Be honest: How much time would you be spending with Jordan? Not much, probably. After all, you'd probably say to yourself "He's already a success, what more can he do?"

As Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman point out in their great book, "First Break All the Rules," typical bosses spend most of their time concentrating on inferior workers, trying to bring them up to some semblance of mediocrity.

Only the great bosses realize that they will get more by concentrating on the top people because their potential is almost unlimited.

With luck, a mediocre worker can turn into a lovely shade of mediocre. But a superstar can change the world.

All-star workers have some sort of internal motivation. As the Houston Rockets fought back to win their second consecutive NBA championship in 1995, Coach Rudy Tomjanovich came up with a rallying cry: "Never underestimate the heart of a champion."

As a boss, you have to figure out what motivates your stars and not automatically assume it's the same thing that motivates you. Maybe they don't care about money, prestige or corner offices. Maybe they'd prefer to be honored in front of their family or peers, get more time off or have an executive assistant.

Don't limit your thinking or theirs. If your quota for salespeople is $100,000 and someone gets to $150,000, it's easy to just gibe her a plaque and be thankful. But maybe she could get to $300,000 with theright encouragement, motivation and attention.

Goodness knows she makes your job easy enough, but what could you do to make her job easier? Could an assistant handle her paperwork so she could spend more time selling? Could you pay for a nanny so she wouldn't worry so much about child care? Could you excuse her from mundane meetings or send her to a prestigious training program in London?

If you don't know what you can do, here's a wild and crazy thought: Ask.

Don't use this as an excuse to micomanage - even the greatest workers can use the help.

Inferior bosses say they can't play favorites. That is true if all your workers are equal. But if some are giving you extra effort or extra production, you owe it to yourself, your employee and your company to help your best workers become even better.

Without help, spectacular workers can fade away. Orson Welles and Muhammad Ali were in their early 20s when their potential was realized. Each had a great coach to improve on that talent, which made them greater.

So the next time you're lucky enough to hire a great talent, remember Michael Jordan - an never forget Tiger Woods.

Bill Bryan is a counselor with the Service Corps of Retired Executives. SCORE offers counseling, workshops and seminars on small business operations. You can reach Bryan through SCORE, 515 N Court St. 815-962-0122, for information and appointments.

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