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?


Stuck in Anger and Resentment

I think one of the most impactful changes I have made in my life was learning to avoid getting stuck in anger and resentment towards others.  I used to just spend hours or even days just seething with resentment about how someone else was doing wrong, being wrong, mistreating me or someone else, or making the wrong decision. I was unable to see how they could be so misguided when the truth or right path was so obvious.

Sometimes I was right. More likely I was wrong. It didn’t matter though because either way I was spending a lot of time and energy on something that was not mine to decide. Whenever I go there, I give away my personal power, ability to be at peace and control of my mental faculties in exchange for feeling self-righteous and judgmental.

Granted, it’s a bit different if I had responsibility for the outcome of the situation and it was part of my job or role to take action. In that case, my opinion is germane and I have a responsibility to either learn about the others’ perspective and/or do something about it. Still, getting upset will not help me make a good decision about how to proceed.

But most of the time I’d get worked up about something that really wasn’t my business or my place to decide, even if it impacted me. For example, I might not like how my best friend makes decisions about her life. But it’s her life, even if the repercussions might have an impact on me eventually. In the past I might’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to convince her of the ‘right thing to do.’ At best it’s a waste of time. At worst I can be giving bad advice (who am I to know how she should live her life?) and I could be harming our relationship by judging her or her actions.

So here’s what I try to do when I’m stuck in the Judging Others and Their Actions Mode:

  • Calm down and get some emotional distance – If I’m emotional and overly invested in an outcome that’s none of my business, I’m not likely to be using my best judgment.
  • Know what I actually have control over – Most of the time I only really have control over my own thoughts, feelings and actions. The less real control I have over a situation, the more I should let it go. Nagging someone else does not count as having control.
  • Look for judgment – It’s easy to armchair quarterback someone else’s life but I don’t know what’s going on in their world, even if I think I do. They have a different view of the world and different values than I do. Those differences don’t make them wrong or bad, just because I don’t understand them.
  • Assume they’re doing their best under the present circumstances – Imagine what kind of circumstances could lead them to these behaviors. It does not mean that you have to agree with their choices. It simply allows you to see how a reasonable person might make the same decision.
  • Consider how you would want to be treated in this situation – I’m sure you don’t want to be judged or criticized if you are struggling with a similar situation.   Perhaps a conversation is warranted to see how you can be supportive of them and their journey without encouraging or rewarding the behavior you dislike. This approach has the additional potential benefit of gaining a better understanding of their perspective.
  • Know that bad situations are sometimes good things – Just like negative emotion sometimes spurs positive actions, so do bad situations. We sometimes judge situations to be bad, when they are sometimes opportunities for much needed change and growth.  Keeping that in mind might help to ratchet down the emotion.
  • If they’ve done something that negatively impacts you directly, forgive them for being human. You would want the same courtesy if you’re struggling with a bad situation. That does not mean, however, that you have to tolerate the behavior going forward. Knowing and enforcing your boundaries is not the same as judging.

If you don’t think this person deserves your effort to find a more forgiving and accepting perspective, consider that this accepting perspective is a gift you give yourself. If you are spending time and energy nurturing negative emotion, give yourself the gift of positive emotions such as tranquility, forgiveness and compassion. Your generosity will help you feel better, regain your peace, retain your personal power, and preserve or even enhance your relationship.   If that isn’t a win-win-win, I don’t know what is.

Taming the Inner Demon

Your heart is pounding. There is a white noise in your ears. You feel like screaming or pounding something. Or perhaps you want to run and hide, cry. Or maybe your mind goes blank.

We all have some version of that feeling when our buttons get pushed, and this welling of emotion starts to consume us.   Observers wonder why we’re so freaked out over what is nothing, or maybe something relatively trivial. On some level, we know they’re right, or we try very hard to convince them that they should be as freaked out as we are.

At these moments, I feel like such a freak for being out of control.   But I’ve gotten much better about managing those feelings, both on the front end and in the midst of a freak out. It’s not perfect though, so sometimes I cave to those feelings and off I go…

However, this is what works for me in the moment.   First, I have to get away from the situation and find a place/environment that’s soothing and comforting. A walk. The gym. A hot bath. A quite and beautiful spot. Somewhere that I can get away and find a new perspective and some emotional distance from my feelings.   Usually I just try to clear my mind and then try to take another look at the situation, this time with the volume knobs turned down as much as possible.

Next, I reappraise. I have already realized that I have tendencies to view the world through a distorted lens and that lens does not always provide the most accurate or healthy interpretation of the world. Therefore, that distortion can send me off on a wild emotional goose chase where no good will come from it. I find that little thread of reason and doubt and pull to unravel the core of negative emotion.

The reappraisal looks something like this: “I’m freaked out but I tend to overreact on this subject. Even if I have been honestly mistreated, I don’t need to react to this degree. What are the other more forgiving interpretations of this situation? How am I mistreating myself? How am I mistreating this other person? Why might a reasonable person do or say that to me? What is the most loving thing I can do for them?

Turning the focus 180 degrees in another direction is a great exercise for taking me outside my bubble of indignation and self-justification. Once I infuse doubt into that process, the light that shines in on my self-righteousness tends to illuminate my foolishness.

If I can notice and reverse my foolishness before it becomes so blatantly obvious others, I may mitigate the damage before it occurs. If not, I go down that same pathway where they’re wondering what demon has possessed me yet again.

The more I practice this emotional distance then reappraisal, the better I get at it. If I can catch it as it’s starting to occur, then I avoid the need to leave in the middle of a meeting to look for a hot bathtub, often not readily accessible. I also can avoid spending hours or days roiling from what is likely an innocent comment from an unsuspecting colleague or family member.

In other words, I retain my personal power. My faculties and emotions intact, I can continue to engage with my day as I would prefer rather than taking an emotional detour that sets me back for hours. Keeping my cool also helps me be more effective managing the situation at hand. After all, if I’m having trouble keeping my cool, my problem-solving and listening abilities go down the drain.

What do you do to keep your cool and personal power? Share with me.

“Hero of Your Destiny”

Thanks to my friend David for sharing this poem with me.

The Declaration

By Robin Sharma, author of The Leader Who Had No Title and The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari

Today, I declare I am strong and brave, not timid nor weak

Today I declare that my past will no longer limit my future and just because I couldn’t achieve something yesterday doesn’t mean I won’t do it this day.

Today I declare that I’ll honor my talents, express my gifts and reveal my creativity to everyone around me.

Today, I declare I’ll be loyal to my values, respectful of my mission and fiercely focused on my dreams.

Today, I declare that I am a maker versus a consumer, a giver versus a taker and a visionary versus a victim.

Today, I declare that I will always be part of the solution and never part of the problem.

Today, I declare that when I fall, I will certainly rise and when I’m in doubt, I will persist.

Today, I declare that I will cherish my health, feed my mind and nourish my soul.

Today, I declare that I am surrounding myself with people who are smarter, faster, stronger and better than me so I am uplifted by their models and inspired by their examples.

Today, I declare that I set the standard in my work, am becoming the icon of my industry and a legend at my craft.

Today, I declare that I adore my family, am grateful for my friends and am an encourager to all those who are blessed to cross my path.

Today, I declare that this New Year is MY year. My time to grow, excel, laugh, love, win, believe, persevere and serve, knowing that I am truly the leader of my fate, the owner of my results and the hero of my destiny.

Blind Spots, In A Good Way

It’s been delayed gratification all semester.  We’ve been discussing the VIA character strengths probably since September, but have gotten precious little in-depth information or training on the subject.  As a Gallup Strengths Coach, this is like putting home baked cookies in front of a three-year old but telling her she can’t have any.  Ever.

Today we had the privilege of having Ryan Niemiec from the VIA Institute come teach us about character strengths.  VIA strengths differ from the Clifton StrengthsFinders in that there are 24 character strengths that comprise human virtues.  The strengths fall into six core themes:  wisdom, courage, temperance, humanity, transcendence and justice.  Like the CSF strengths, building character strengths promotes engagement and satisfaction at work; using strengths is fulfilling and satisfying.   Empirical research also shows that using our highest character strengths, or our signature strengths, improve well-being, life satisfaction and symptoms of depression.

And the test is free.  Go to authentichappiness.org and take the test!  How cool is that?

Finding new ways to improve upon our signature strengths was easier for some strengths than others. We asked others to rate what they thought our signature strengths were.  Where strengths list coincide, we’re using our strengths well and transparently.  Where strengths are going unnoticed, we can work to improve their use so they are more apparent to others.  For example, I learned, though high in gratitude, if I mix-up the ways I express my gratitude, I could be more effective in sharing this life satisfaction-inducing strength with others.

But what I found most interesting was my character strength blind spots.  In this case, my classmates pointed out strengths that I was unaware of.   My classmates indicated that they thought I was high on self-regulation and leadership, whereas I ranked myself fairly low.  I guess I could reflect upon the reason for the discrepancy, or even better, just focus on trying to enhance and optimize those strengths.   Given I have a self-regulation strength it should be fairly easy for me to integrate and adopt those changes.

Now, isn’t it nice to learn new ways you are appreciated and ways in which you can improve, simultaneously?

A Perfect Balance of Talent and Virtue?

We all want to have talent and virtue in abundance.   Aristotle believed that happiness is not possible without excellence or virtue.  So give me talent and virtue.  Lots of it.   But is it possible to have or overuse talent and virtue to where they become a bad thing?

Aristotle also believed that virtues such as courage and temperance are best when exercised in balance.  Too much courage, he says, makes someone rash and belligerent.   Too much modesty can make someone shy.  Extremes of virtue (too much or too little) then become a vice.   Instead, Aristotle contends, that we should use reason to exercise our virtues like Goldilocks does: “just right” (he didn’t quite say it that way).

Similarly, the Clifton StrengthsFinder identifies the top 34 strengths that people use to be successful.  We can think about our strengths as either being in the “balcony” or the “basement”.    The former refers to optimal use of our strength, the latter when we are using our strength ineffectively or even counterproductively.  For example, my Input strength gets in my way when I start asking too many questions.   I need the data.  The 411.   This can be disruptive, annoying and intrusive when I’m in the basement with it, but I can also be a glorious source of useful information when my Input is exercised correctly.

Again, I would contend that reason, or I would call it wisdom, is what separates the basement from the balcony, the virtue from the vice.    The right balance is circumstance-dependent, so the same formula doesn’t work in every situation.  Wisdom and experience allows us to find that sweet spot as much as possible. But since every situation is different, we’re unlikely to hit it every time.  Or are we?

Let’s suppose for a moment that all  the talents and virtues are identifiable and quantifiable and that there are 100 of them.  I have all 100 and I use them all the time in just the right manner.  In other words, I’m perfect.

Yeah, right.

I know some of you think that you’re pretty darn close to that, or should be.  I know that because I used to be that way too.  This is perfectionism, and the need for perfectionism is the opposite of acceptance.   Acceptance is an important virtue and as humans our reality is that perfection is neither possible nor desirable.  First, perfection leaves no room for growth or improvement.  By definition, that’s stagnation.  What’s perfect about that? Second, stagnation and the smugness that often accompanies people who think they’re perfect is downright unappealing.  .  Third, everyone has a different interpretation of reality, and so even if you’re objectively “perfect,” someone will disagree.    Finally, the tendency to believe one is perfect will prevent one from actually seeing where a fix is needed.  So, which is more likely to be closer to perfect, something that is never improved upon, or something that undergoes continual improvement?  It’s ironic, then, that belief in perfectionism actually encourages the opposite.

This is the folly of human nature.  It takes wisdom to recognize and learn from it, forgiveness to feel OK about it, and humor to laugh at it.   This is how we thrive.

Thinking (T) versus Feeling (F) – A Marriage Made in Heaven

One of the reasons I love the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is because I have learned how the other half think.  As an extrovert (E), I now know that introverts (I) get their energy from being alone, whereas I get energy by being with others (a common misconception is that E/I refer to outgoing versus shy, respectively).  Those introverts are just not as annoying when they go escape for alone time now that I understand how they’re wired.

Same with those other MBTI dimensions.  Until I understood how others function, I would get frustrated with them because they were different from me.   Perceiving (P) folk like to keep things open-ended, but Judging (J) folk like myself like to make decisions and have closure (“why can’t you just make a decision, already?”)  Intuiting (N) folks tend to be big-picture types whereas Sensing (S) are more detail-oriented (“why do we have to keep going over the details?  It’s so BORING”).

The same holds true for those feeling (F) people.  F’s make decisions based on how a situation or decision feels, whereas  Thinking (T) people like myself make decisions based on thinking things through.   But with the T/F and all the other MBTI dimensions, not only have I learned to understand the other types, but more importantly, I appreciate and value them.  I mean – who better than a detail person to have around when you hate dealing with that stuff?  It really makes sense, when you stop feeling annoyed, that having both types provide input is ideal for the best outcome.

But the cool thing is that there is scientific evidence for the benefits of having both sides of the T/F dimension.   I know, you’re thinking:  “what possible benefit can there be to having F’s around?” (just kidding!).   Turns out there is a part of the brain that’s responsible for emotionality called the ventromedial prefontal cortex (vmPFC).  Patients that have damage to their vmPFC do not have the same emotional response to stimuli that others without brain damage have.  So while I might get excited about the idea about choosing a vacation destination, they will simply impassionately review the list of thousands of options and make a decision.

In other words, they would score off the charts on the T side of the MBTI.

They make great decisions, right?


Those thousands of vacation destinations have to be evaluated individually by whatever criteria the patient selects.  Imagine having to do that with every purchase at the grocery store, every turn you have to make in the car on your way to your destination.  Every decision becomes prolonged and laborious.  Now imagine having a difficult conversation with a loved one about a sensitive subject but without your emotional radar.  Imagine having to navigate a political situation at work.  As you might imagine, these patients tend to make terrible decisions or no decision at all, and have unhappy relationships.  In other words, even us unfeeling T’s rely on our emotions for even our most mundane decisions.

It’s so obvious now the value of  both T and F (and all the other MBTI dimensions), which means we don’t have to fight over different styles any more.  We also get to quit relying on only half of our brain, or half of our population for decisions and planning.  I don’t know about you but the number of brain cells in my head are not increasing, so it’s time to recruit all of them to the task.  Maybe that’s what makes us wiser in the end.