The Leadership Matrix That Enables You to Lead Anyone Better

Dec 28, 2015
8 Min Read

leadershipLeaders are being asked to do more with less, and that sometimes results in leaders taking on too much work themselves in order to spare team members the extra duties.  But a new leadership matrix reveals there may be a simpler way for leaders to motivate every team member to perform better and smarter, and help lighten that load.

Leadership would be easy, you think, if you didn’t actually have to lead people.

It’s a common refrain of many leaders. If a leader isn’t admitting to it out loud, he or she is at least thinking it.

Leadership is difficult for many reasons, but the top stressors often have to do with the less-than-stellar performers on any team. The whiner. The steamroller. The slacker. Every workplace has them, and every leader has to deal with them.

Unfortunately, many leaders deal with them by enabling them. They make up for the deficiencies in their team by doing the work themselves. The result is a team riddled with bad habits and sub-par performances – and a leader heading toward burnout.

In a new book, “Lead Inside the Box,” authors Victor Prince and Mike Figliuolo say there’s a simple matrix that any leader can use to not only improve the performance of any team member – but stop the cycle of enabling poor performers.

"In a perfect world, you would recruit all ‘A’ players,” says Prince, former COO of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “But that’s not what happens and you have to go with the team you’ve been given."

Now a leadership and strategy consultant, Prince says that the matrix is a visionary tool that enables leaders to see what needs to be fixed and how to get team members to their optimal performance.

Here’s how leaders can use the matrix:

  1. Survey your team. There are four team-member behavior profiles, determined by how much leadership input the person requires from a leader and how much they contribute in output. For example, a high input/low output team member drags down a team and is known as a “detractor” because he or she demands so much of your time, yet contributes little to the output. “Exemplars” are those who demand little from you but have high output. “High-cost producers” are those who demand a lot from you, but also contribute a lot. Lastly, there are the “passengers” who don’t ask much from a leader, but also don’t have a lot of output.
  2. Consider the details. Once you place your various team members into these categories, then it’s time to get more specific and think about subcategories. This includes “slackers,” who are the “detractor” team members who have the skills to do the job but lack the will to do it. There are also the “squeaky wheels” who are the “high-cost producers” who require lots of hand holding from a leader. Another subcategory can include the “passengers” who are known as “joyriders” because they focus on the task they want to do, not the tasks you need them to do.
  3. Craft a leadership strategy.  While it can be mind-boggling to think of coming up with an individual plan for each team member, the authors say you can instead take a broader approach to lead each subtype. Using the broad-brush approach allows you to help several team members at one time with an improvement plan.

Prince says it’s also clear that leaders are in need of a little reality check themselves during this time. For example, while a “squeaky wheel” demands a lot of your time, you may also enjoy this person’s neediness because it makes you “feel smart” and you like being helpful. But, if you’re not careful, the authors warn, “you can get sucked into this dynamic and spend all your time doing their jobs for them.”

To combat the problem, leaders need to put boundaries around their time. If a team member is being “intellectually lazy,” then the leader needs to push the person to come up with answers on his own or guide him toward help. In other words, don’t rewrite the report for an employee, but mark it where changes are needed and then let the employee correct them. The next time, the report is much more likely to be in better shape when it’s submitted, Prince says.

At the same time, leaders must take a hard look at how they may be enabling some of the behavior of team members, Prince says. It’s not unusual for a leader to be stressed because she’s doing the work of slacking team members or spending too much time hand-holding the “squeaky wheel” on the team.  That’s why the authors ask leaders to assess how much time they’re spending doing things like motivating, monitoring, training, coaching or prioritizing work with each team member.

Once that’s completed, it should be clear to a leader who is sucking up more time than they should – and who is really self-directed and contributing a lot to the team’s output.

The authors caution, however, that you can’t be too over-eager to change your team overnight. Try to focus on two or three specific areas, especially certain abilities that may be holding back a team member. Or, look for areas to improve that are closely related to the worker’s core responsibilities or those that can be improved quickly.

“Using the matrix and the assessment is really an ‘ah-ha’ moment for many leaders,” Prince says. “It gives them the opportunity to see how to better manage the people they have. That helps them, but it also helps these team members become better and improve their performance.”



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