How to Lead an Underachieving Team

Underachiever's Manifesto

There are times in our various leadership roles that we will have times of great productivity, effectiveness and performance. These times are wonderful and full of promise and excitement. But there are other times when it seems like instead of the Midas touch turning everything to gold, our leadership or our team keeps missing the mark. So what do you do when the group, team or organization that you are leading is unproductive, ineffective and non­-performing? In this post I would like to propose ten basic principles / leadership behaviors that will help you in these dry / difficult times and help you and your team discover your full potential.

Examine motivations – Like the old Sprite commercial that asked the question “what’s my motivation”, we too must examine our own motives and those of our team. If motives are selfish or self-serving the team will inevitably fall short of its potential. Motives need to be focused on fulfilling the mission of the organization and seeking to benefit others.

Discover obstacles – Obstacles come in many shapes and forms. Some are obvious some are not. A leader that can help a team to perform needs to be able to identify bad attitudes, cumbersome systems, unnecessary bureaucracy and so much more. Running a race is a lot more fun when you don’t have to hurdle something every few feet.

Inspect tools – Tools are a vital part of performing and producing. When tools are not ­maintained, not up­-to­-date, not accessible or not appropriate to the task the work of the team will be slowed down or thwarted. Make sure your tools are sharp, clean, organized and available.

Determine morale – Thoughts and beliefs determine behavior. If we believe we are failures, failure often follows. An observant and caring leader will not only determine the morale of his/her team but will also seek to raise the barometer. Encouragement, praise, and celebrating the win are vital components to increasing morale.

Consider outside influences – Successful organizations and teams don’t operate as islands. They have outside influences. But outside influences can be helpful or detrimental. When leading a failing team we must learn to investigate who and what are and influencing our people. Are the influences encouraging or degrading, empowering or inhibiting?

Review measures of success – Knowing what is considered a success really can empower people. Unacheivable and unexpressed expectations will result in frustration and ultimately, failure. Make sure that what your team thinks is success is the same as what you define as success. Not only that, but make sure that these measurements are understood, expressed and regularly highlighted. And, please: celebrate the win! People want to know that their work counts for something!

Compare strengths with expectations – If you team is failing you need to ask yourself and find out if what is expected of the team and its members is actually achievable in light of their abilities. Don’t ask a quarterback to play center and don’t ask the technology guy to make the sales pitch. Put people in their places of strength and set them up to succeed. Too often failing teams were set up to fail.

Seek objective analysis – What do others say about your team? Let an wise and experienced outsider come in and analyze your team and their work. It is crazy how blind we can be to our own dysfunction, but others can often identify the very thing inhibiting us. Just make sure your outside consultation comes from a reputable and qualified source.

Entertain new ideas from within and without – What brought your team to a place of under-performance will not be the same thing that brings you to a place of excellence. New ideas and new practices will have to be embraced. Those ideas may already be in the minds of your team members. Ask them. But new ideas may also come from unexpected places, so be on the lookout for inspiration.

Allow yourself to be stretched – Last (but not least) allow yourself to be stretched as a leader. If you are rigid and unbending you will likely exacerbate the situation. Don’t get into a blame game of who is at fault as much as you become a doctor seeking a diagnosis and subsequent prescription. To lead a team from failure to performance you will have to grow both personally and professionally.

I hope these ten leadership behaviors will help you move your team from failure to success!!

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My name is Michael Johnson. I am a child of the King of kings and Lord of lords. I have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and I am on a journey of faith to become like Jesus Christ.

I am a husband and father, an adventurer and seeker, an artist and a musician (of sorts).

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Kevin Bowser

    I am particularly drawn to the ones that deal with analysis. One of the things that I notice about great leaders is that they are always looking at their (or their team’s) performance. So, “Review measures of success” and “Seek objective analysis” really resonate with me.