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Two Ways to Deal With Dead-weight Team Members.

Stop learning “leadership hacks” and fix it!

We’ve all had school projects, work assignments, or sports teams, where some team members do more work than others. It’s frustrating when you’re the person being asked to do more work to cover for their lack of effort, but it is absolutely infuriating when you are the one in charge having to learn how to deal with the problem.

There are multi-million-dollar businesses created for the sole purpose of solving this problem. Hundreds of “leadership” and “team building” seminars teach the same tips and tricks ad nauseum every day around the world. Thousands of books tout the new “secret” of successful leaders and productive teams. But here is the real secret:

There is no secret.

When dealing with the type of individuals in this example you have only two options:

1. You can change the person

2. You can change yourself

Change the person

Easy: Don’t hire them in the first place.

Spend more time on the hiring process, learn as much as you can about who they are, what their DNA looks like. Aim to follow the old cliché, “hire slow and fire fast.” I don’t always agree with firing fast, it depends too much on the circumstance, but I certainly agree with the hiring slow.

If you believe you are an expert in your industry, or that you are, in fact, qualified for the leadership position you hold, you should be able to recognize the traits that your team currently lacks in the person across the desk from you.

Good team leaders are good judges of character, and it’s worth reminding yourself: skills can be taught, but personality and mentality are immutable. Essentially, you should be hiring the person you’re interviewing, not the résumé they gave you. A résumé won’t do any work for you.

Change Yourself

Shift your attitude on poor performers

I am concerned that there is any leadership mantra that implies there is such a thing as a dead weight member.

If you think that way about a member of your team, chances are they will pick up on that vibe. And as my good wife says — as relates to parenting, leadership, associating with others — people will rise up or sink down to your expectation of them.

If you are having management conversations about so-called dead weight members x, y, and z, then expect that it will get back to them, and employees a, b, and c, via the gossip machine, or shadow organization chart and expect those individuals to sink further into that expectation.

When you have someone who is trending in that direction, very rarely you will have anybody else to blame but yourself. All you can do is share with them what your expectations are for them, hopefully outlining an upward path for them.

Not everyone will be outstanding, not everyone will be a 10 out of 10. And if you only hire and fire according to that mentality, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Your skill as a leader lies in your ability to take a 7/10 and make them feel like they’re a 10/10. If they know that is your perception of them, then they will naturally want to work to meet that expectation.

Business depends on the full continuum of individuals, all you can do is help direct them in the right direction and hope they step up — to the level of their own potential — whatever that may be.

A recent example

In a situation I experienced recently with one of the companies I’m associated with, we had two people in very similar, very key roles. We ended up hiring both, out of requirement. One was, in our mind, the better and more polished individual, and therefore the one we always went to.

This sent the signal to the other that she wasn’t as good, and so she performed to that expectation. We didn’t express it, but we certainly implied it by virtue of our actions toward the one we showed an affinity to, and a reliance on.

As life would happen, our top performer found another opportunity and left, leaving us worried about what we thought was a “b-player”, soon-to-be dead-weight member. We now had to rely solely on her shoulders, we had to give her the prime projects, interact with her for everything that was once on the shoulders of her former co-worker.

And guess what? She stepped up and crushed it.

By interacting with her on a more positive, uplifting, and encouraging manner, and giving her trust and an opportunity to demonstrate her value, she thrived. She found new meaning in her work and as a result, found the inspiration to really elevate her performance.

She’s now a significant contributor, and her output is perhaps greater than her co-worker we previously had assumed was simply more talented.

People will step up or down to the expectations we have of them, whether expressed or implied. Their “dead-weightedness” might be more of a function of how they’re led, managed, and maybe hired in the first place. So if you’re having a problem in this area, the best thing you can do is to take a hard look at yourself first.

Aaron Webber is a serial entrepreneur and CEO of Webber Investments LLC, as well as a Managing Partner at Madison Wall Agencies.

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