Low Performer Rehab

Quint Studer, author of Results That Last, describes low performers as those that blame others for their lack of performance, defend themselves by saying they haven’t gotten the proper training to do their job, and disclose personal problems to try to garner sympathy or detract from their performance. In sum, low performers fail to take responsibility for their inability to deliver in their job.

Though it may be their responsibility, it’s not always their fault. A therapist I know once said that everyone is always trying their best. It’s taken me some time, but I completely agree. Even low performers are trying their best. That being said, it’s not a given that low performers should be retained simply for their good intentions and effort.

I actually enjoy working with people who are struggling with their job or course of study. As you may know, one of my gifts is being able to see the best in everyone, despite their circumstances. What I see in low performers is either that they’re not using their talents to their advantage, they’re letting their personal feelings get in the way of their performance, or they’re a poor fit for the job or organization. None of these possibilities speak to their general incompetence, stupidity or being a bad person. I have yet to draw one of those conclusions after working with a low performer.

Working with low performers is so gratifying because the turn around can be dramatic. A self-limiting belief often impedes their ability to shine. By exposing that belief, often times we can see that person blossom, become engaged, and excel. Truly, nothing is more gratifying to me.

Some low performers acknowledge the change they need to succeed, but yet remain stuck in low-performance-mode. Sometimes they seem unready to make a change; in other words, they are still contemplating whether to make that leap. Or, they remain committed to a self-limiting belief that they intellectually recognize is dysfunctional, but have not made that internal shift in their belief system.   Unfortunately, it is all too common that an individual must have a stark wakeup call, such as getting fired, before such life lessons can become real to them. At that point, they may be able to change their dysfunctional beliefs.

Therefore, protecting someone from a natural consequence such as a D or F grade or getting fired is ultimately not doing them any favors. I have frequently seen such individuals find the courage, at that point in time, to start looking for the job or training that allows them to thrive.   They then excel. Others think they’re fantastic. The low performer is a thing of the past.

In conclusion, helping someone to make that transition, either through development, training, moving them into a more suitable position, or even allowing them to suffer the natural consequence of their low performance is the right thing to do. Enabling them to continue in low performance mode not only harms them and the organization, but it will make the high and middle performers perceive the gap as unfair, and their performance will also decline. Motivation and trust decline in tandem.

A leader’s failure to effectively deal with a low performer merits introspection and analysis on the leader’s part regarding why they are not dealing with performance issues. Maybe it’s the low performer’s fault, or you haven’t been trained for this?


Discovering the Treasure Trove Within

Intelligence quotient (IQ) has long been the ticket into selective academic programs, either in higher or even K-12 education. The top 3% of the IQ curve is what was defined as ‘gifted’ back in the day when the boys were in school. Top 4%? Too bad.

More recently, Angela Duckworth has shown that grit, or perseverance towards a goal, seems to be a better predictor of academic performance. As an educator for the past 21 years, however, I also know that the ability to do well on an exam predicts, well, the ability to do well on an exam. Thankfully for many of us, we have precious few exams after we graduate.

I have been saying for a while that we are all genius at something, and I believe it more than ever. You’ve read (ad nauseum, probably) about our 34 strengths (Clifton StrengthsFinders, CSF), our VIA Character Strengths and also about Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. Another interesting assessment is Holland’s Vocational Model that includes 6 types of vocational interests. I was wondering about the overlap between these 4 ways to measure strengths and talents, and came up with the following table.

You can see that there are some strengths that convey across all 4 assessments, such as what is most closely related to the traditional IQ.   The other talent that spans all 4 has to do with relationships or social intelligence.

What is possibly even more interesting is what does NOT replicate with other assessments. For example, kinesthetic intelligence and courage do not appear in the other 3. This list is not even comprehensive, since I only listed the domains of CSF and VIA, not every one of the 34 and 24 respective strengths (only parenthetically when one matched a Holland or Gardner strength).

This is important because it means that there are so many different ways to be smart and talented, and our schools largely focus on one of them. That observation leads one to question the perhaps over-emphasis of our schools on IQ and book smart, a question a la Ken Robinson.


Holland Vocational Interests

(6 total)

Gardner Intelligences (9 total)


Clifton StrengthsFinders (34 total sorted into 4 domains) VIA Character Strengths (24 total sorted into 6 domains)
Realistic – Doers Executing Domain (perseverance)
Investigative- Thinkers Logical -Mathematical Strategic Domain Wisdom and Knowledge
Artistic – Creators Executing Domain (ideation) (creativity)
Social – Helpers Interpersonal Relationship Domain Humanity


Enterprising- Persuaders Influencing Domain
Conventional- Organizers Executing Domain (arranger)


Linguistic (communication)
Existential (connectedness) Transcendence
Moral (consistency) Justice


But for each of us as individuals, it means that we can question our own conception of how we are or are not smart.

I’m frequently in awe of those folks that discover in their golden years some da Vinci-like talent. Perhaps they’re more talented than us mere mortals. Or perhaps they are more willing to explore their range of intelligences. In other words, maybe we shouldn’t wait until we retire to explore what our innate and undiscovered talents are and that we should be open to all the different types of talents that may emerge. I’m not quite in my golden years (though that may be arguable) and I’ve only recently discovered my intrapersonal intelligence. Who knew that was a talent (well, Gardner, for starters)?

So cultivate your courage strength: explore and be open to the weird human tricks you can do with ease and excellence. Develop it. See where it takes you. Maybe it’s just something you can do for enjoyment. You might discover you want to spend more time with the hidden you.

Our Shared Journeys

There is no better way for me to spend a day than working on student or faculty development. It’s my passion. It’s what I live to do.

And when someone tells me that the work has been helpful or impactful, then I’m filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and awe for this journey that we’re on. I know that, perhaps from the student’s perspective, I’m there to help them. Indeed, I am. But to me, it’s so much more.

You see, what I’ve learned over the last four years since I started this work is that we’re all on this journey together.   I’m significantly older than most of my students, so I have had more time to learn on this path that we share. But in so many ways, the students are the brave ones, the wise ones, the tenacious ones, the creative ones, the compassionate ones, the forgiving ones, and I learn from them.

In addition, you know the saying, “see one, do one, teach one”? Teaching is the highest form of learning. When I sit down to write a blog, I’m learning more than I teach. When I teach, I am often learning even more than the students.   For that reason, combined with the potential to make an impact, teaching to me is an unbelievable privilege. You can serve while being served.

I still wonder at my path sometimes, starting in pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences and ending up helping people on such a personal journey. The first day of our new class for young biomedical scientists, GRAD611 Professional and Personal Development, I talked about the journey and I can see faces trying to recall the last day to drop a class without penalty.   Therefore, it was especially gratifying by the end of the semester when the students were fully engaged in the class and even willing to come to the optional activities without nagging. That feeling continues on now that we’ve finished the second course, GRAD615, Biomedical Science Career Seminars.

So students and readers in the blogosphere, thank you for giving me an amazing reason to jump out of bed each day. Every step on this journey together is sacred to me and it’s an honor to walk by your side.

See the VCU BEST website:  rampages.us/vcubest/

Networking for Shy People

Everyone seems to understand the importance of being a good networker, but I know very few people who actually like doing it.

I’ve not always liked it, but I love it now. For the most part.

See, I’m a really shy person. It’s hard for others to tell, because I’ve worked hard at just getting over my shyness. Also, I’m an extrovert, though I struggle when meeting new people. Interversion is often equated with being shy, but they’re not the same thing. An extrovert is energized by being with others and an introvert is energized by being alone. In contrast, a shy person struggles when meeting new people. So for me, it’s that initial meeting with either strangers or even with people I already know that requires a lot of energy from me.

So how can a shy person make that transition to becoming a networking mogul?

Play to your strengths.

In Gallup StrengthsFinders parlance, I’m a Relator. I prefer to deepen relationships rather than making new ones, which tends to lead to shyness. I always prefer hanging with a small group of friends over meeting a room full of strangers. Though I dread cocktail parties, oddly I almost always enjoy them. I try to focus on one or two people at a time, assuming we can develop some rapport, and try to get to know them.

I use my other strengths to get that rapport started. I use my curiosity (in this case, Input, or desire to gather information), my creativity (Ideation, making creative associations and tangents to fuel the discussion), connectedness (find connections to other things/people) and then swing to Relator to deepen the relationship once we get off the ground.

Working with people I like really motivates me to find out what we have in common and build on it. I’m puzzled by those that focus on differences and those that state that they have “nothing in common” with another person. Do we not all have basically the same needs and desires: to live a good life, raise happy, successful children, and to feel loved and appreciated? If you believe that you have nothing in common, you will find that you have nothing to talk about. If you believe you share similar goals, yearnings and desires, you can make a friend for life.

Which is more fun, interesting and rewarding? What better way to turn an awful cocktail party into something rewarding and meaningful? Who knows, you may soon be working with your new friend.

The Popularity of Christmas

Holiday cheer

Holiday cheer

83% of Americans are Christian.

However, only 2/3 of Christians view Christmas as a religious holiday and 1/3 as a cultural holiday. My high math skills also tells me that 17% of Americans are not Christian, of which apparently 80% celebrate Christmas as a cultural holiday. In other words, approximately 40% of Americans view Christmas as a cultural holiday.

Despite the popularity of Christmas, compared to our childhood, we are less likely to participate in Christmas rituals like going to a holiday party (91 vs. 86%), putting up a tree (92 vs. 79%), or sending holiday cards (81 vs. 65%). We’ve seem to have given up on pretending there is a Santa (72 vs. 31%). Even buying gifts may have gone down (89 vs. 86%).

So why does it seem we make an even bigger deal about Christmas these days? It seems the entire month of December is given over to Christmas, and much of November now. I can’t find a single family event in Richmond in December that doesn’t have a Christmas theme. There’s hardly a store in town that isn’t playing holiday music or sporting holiday décor all month long.

I don’t even feel comfortable saying this aloud (so instead I’ll blog about it on the internet): It’s not that I dislike Christmas. I just wish there were a little less of it. I would just enjoy Christmas more if it weren’t everywhere, everything, all month long.

In contrast, the most important holiday for the Chinese is Chinese New Years. Approximately 1/6 of the world’s population lives in China. That does not count the rest of the world’s ethnic Chinese and other Asians that celebrate this holiday. Is there a single event in Richmond that I can go to each year to celebrate Chinese New Years? Where’s the parade with firecrackers? Does anyone in the grocery store wish me a Happy New Year in February? What if I got mad at them for not doing so and complain to the manager or write a letter to the editor about the War on Chinese New Years? I can’t even find red envelopes at the Martin’s, CVS or Target. Ai ya.

That being said, given that 92% of Americans celebrate Christmas in some manner, IMHO it’s appropriate for the Christmas theme to pervade our culture. I simply ask that if we’re not all so gung ho about it all month, please do not judge us. We are busy figuring out what date Chinese New Years falls this year and planning our private, solo event. Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Mindless Entertainment?

I once participated in an icebreaker game where you anonymously shared a secret about yourself and everyone had to guess who the secret belonged to. My secret? I was a soap opera junkie (well, it was specific to the former All My Children).

No one guessed me. No one.

That’s because those that know me think of me as a fairly serious-minded, no-nonsense intellectual. No way that I’d like such mindless entertainment like a soap opera.

Now that you know my little secret, you may not be surprised that I also love Millionaire Matchmaker, America’s Top Model, Project Runway and have been obsessed with American Idol during certain seasons. Other reality TV shows: not so much.

In short, I defy the intellectual stereotype by watching decidedly un-intellectual TV.

Why do I like these shows? Mindless entertainment? Or something more? After some reflection, I believe that such shows speak to a deep part of me that yearns for something, whether something I love to do or the impact I wish to have on the world. It’s not something that I yearn to be, per se.  At least not for me.  If it were, I would be obsessed with So You Think You Can Dance or Top Chef.

No, I think for me it has to do with the idea that no matter who you are, we are all on a journey to find the best in ourselves. What’s striking about each show is that an individual may seem very ordinary at first glance but we then find that they have something extraordinary inside. The contestants, even oftentimes the models, appear as ordinary folk until they open their mouth, cut a square of fabric, or get in front of a camera.  Some even appear to be a ‘loser’ until they’re in their element. The ones that learn and grow are the ones that win the competition.

The opposite is true for the millionaires. On the surface they seem like they have the perfect life, but underneath they are also just like everyone else: on a journey to make the most of their lives.   And when it comes to relationships, we’re all the same. A boorish jerk who is a millionaire is not much more likely to be in a successful relationship than a boorish jerk who is poor. Some of them learn, grow, and then ‘win’ by finding love.

Each show features a challenge, where to be successful, the individual must undergo a transformation to discover the best in themselves. We all yearn to do so, regardless of whether we’re the poor little rich girl, or simply the poor little girl. We all have it in us.   It’s not always so obvious. It’s not always something that’s encouraged by our loved ones or our culture. But we all have a shining thing that we do….we all have a shining self that we can share…if we can find the courage to uncover it.

What shining thing do you do? How do you bring out the best in yourself for others?   What’s blocking you from doing so?  Bring your inner Simon, Heidi, Tyra, or Patty to grow past it.  Return to your life transformed. You win.