Consistent overachievers are dangerous. Sounds crazy, no?
Winning is a good thing. Everyone loves winners. They make huge contributions to the company’s bottom line. Not surprising, therefore, that leaders go to great lengths to retain top performing talent. Creating differentiated incentive plans, offering more money, the works! Consistent top performers are always in demand – whether during recession or on the gravy train.
A consistent top performer is someone who has exceeded expectations by over 150 per cent for more than two consecutive years; tends to make more money than the boss – mostly from incentives; is aggressive; hears rather than listens; takes winning personally and losing too.
They are different from regular high performers, who also exceed their targets; a consistent top performer only plays to win. For the visibility, the award personally presented by the CEO at a glittering function. And the money, for sure.
All hail Alexander the Great. He works in your office, on your team!
The original Alexander had four clear identifiers
- He was short lived.
- He dragged a reluctant team through uncharted territory
- Most of his conquests quickly collapsed, wasting huge financial and human resources
- His plan was all about himself conquering the world
Alexander the Great is often mistakenly considered a role-model. Someone who accomplished so much at such a young age. In reality, Alexander was an outlier. A flash in the pan who achieved too much too quickly. Today he remains only in name because almost everything he achieved collapsed soon after his demise.
However, his seeds can be seen germinating everywhere! At least one Indian company once named its Sales award program after Sikandar (as he was called in this part of the world). Unfortunate!
Seniors need to watch out for the likes of Alex. He’s the top performing Sikandar-type salesperson: Leaving behind a trail of unhappy customers who quickly attrite. He’s that Country Manager at a multi-national: Moving on to new assignments every couple of years, leaving behind markets falling apart from ill-affordable, unsustainable, short-term strategies. Leaving unhappy successors holding very battered cans.
Today, a winner is not just about the numbers but about being able to carry the team along. Sadly, many senior leaders tend to assume everyone else’s buy-in because, well, they’re the boss. In reality, everyone ends up breathless trying to catch up with Alexander as he forges ahead to his next conquest.
Oh, Alex does bring benefits, but he comes fraught with dangers too: Burn-outs and short-cuts. The former due to a permanent state of overdrive and the latter the temptation to remain in that state. The former destroys the individual, but the latter could bring the organization down!
A solution is to channelize Alexander’s energies towards broader goals early enough – within two years:
- Reward good work with more work: Meaningful work. Work that would normally be handled by someone senior. Work that widens Alex’s perspective. Different, cross-functional, pan-geographic, challenging – making him stretch and compete with people who are superior to his current competition. The positioning for Alex: pick on someone your own size!
- Mentoring programs: Allot Alex a mentor, at the same time give him a mentee to keep an eye on and share his knowledge with. Alex’s mentor will provide regular guidance and act like a sounding board to bounce his ambitious ideas on. She will also pull Alex back before he embarks on journeys that could be needlessly risky for the company. The accountability for a mentee would oblige Alex to lead by example – and be less of a maverick himself!
- Focus on teamwork: Guide Alex to carry the team forward with him and not hurtle ahead dragging them behind him. Help him understand that a business should run like a well-oiled machine. At every stage, the parts have to depend on each other to move in tandem to deliver a quality product. 360 degree feedback and climate studies can help provide appropriate data.
- Review successes: Trust, but verify. Alexander needs to be monitored. Motivated, encouraged, but monitored. Outliers often take short-cuts. Dangerous ones. So a periodic review of Alex’s results, like looking deeper into that fancy presentation, can prevent future grief. Question his numbers. No, not to doubt his integrity, but to ensure that there are no skeletons rotting in his cupboard.
Agreed, consensus is an odious process – whether in Parliament House or the boardroom. Any successful leader would understand something so fundamental. But it is certainly the appropriate, more productive approach to business.
Better indeed than letting Alexander the Great resurface after two millennia, to haunt today’s workplace!