Creative Leadership

The Secrets to Leading High Achievers

As a leader, at some point in your career you’ll have the influence, budget, and resources to build a team of high achievers. High achievers come in all packages and personality types, and can revolutionize organizations. However, what I find more often is that bosses discover pretty quickly they are way out of their depth when it comes to managing that kind of brilliant, high-energy team – or worse – they become intimidated by their talent. Either way, it’s a crisis waiting to happen.

When you get to that point in your career – or if you’re already there – here’s a handful of good tips for maximizing your leadership ability with high achieving teams:

1. Start with yourself. High achievers respect leaders who have high standards, perform well under pressure, and can inspire teams even in the most difficult circumstances. You’ll never lead high achievers well if you can’t lead yourself.

2. Treat them differently from low achievers. Far too often (especially in religious or nonprofit organizations) we want to treat everyone the same, but with high achievers, that’s a recipe for disaster. Christian principles teach that we respect everyone equally because we are all loved by God equally. However, that doesn’t mean our gifts, talents, and skills are equal. When it comes to salaries, office hours, rules, freedom, perks and other job related issues, each person on the team should be rewarded based on their value to the project.

3. Give them the resources they need, and then get out of the way. You’re only shooting yourself in the foot when you don’t give high achievers the resources they need. Micromanaging is the worst thing you can do with these high performers. So don’t let your insecurities as a leader get in the way of allowing them to fly.

4. Separate them from low achievers. Nothing will drive a high achiever crazy faster than having to work next to a low achiever. My advice? Put them on a different floor, different room, or better yet – a different building than the other members of your team.

5. Pay them what they’re worth and stop nit-picking your best people. Sure we want to think people are working for you because of the “cause,” but people have to pay their bills. Obviously budgets are a challenge for everyone, but when you do have the resources, by holding back financially with your best people, you’re killing a big part of their motivation. Rewards matter.

6. Finally, give them deadlines and don’t be afraid to add pressure. A dirty little secret among creative people is that we actually love deadlines. The worst thing you can do is assign a project and not give your team a date when it’s due. Good planning needs benchmarks.

None of these ideas needs to be over-done or cause tension in your organization. But through skillful leadership, you can take your high achievers to even higher levels and in the process transform your organization.

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  1. And pastors: This sage advice applies to your worship team as well. Your talented, highly trained musicians and singers are much less likely to make a joyful noise unto the Lord when they’re surrounded by amateurs.

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