A painful reality leaders must recognize is that much of the team’s performance comes from only a small group of individual contributors. These top performers add a disproportionate amount of value that propels the team forward. Without them, the team would not show up and excel the way it does.
The reality is that the best people are worth far more than everyone else on the team. The critical question for leaders is not how to find more top performers, but how to reward and retain the ones they have.
The best leaders recognize that exceptional team members can find a role elsewhere anytime they want, while the weakest performers on a team are somewhat stuck in place, without much opportunity to go anywhere else.
Too many leaders ignore this reality and reward team members equally with time, attention, opportunity, and compensation. This is a recipe for mediocrity and portends a team that will eventually lose top talent.
The best leaders do one thing above all else — they make sure the best performers know how valuable they are. They give them more responsibility, more exposure to powerful individuals, more time, more attention, more input, and more information. Most of all, they give them a larger share of the monies available, even if that means paying weaker performers much less. Weak performers quickly learn that to get more, they have to produce more.
It is not uncommon to see well-intentioned leaders do just the opposite. In their attempt to correct or strengthen the performance of those on the bottom, they reward the weakest performers with their personal time and attention and divvy resources whenever they see progress. This sends a powerfully negative message to the team — those who do less get the most from the leader. Over time, this undermines team performance and demotivates top performers. Those who excel learn quickly that their contribution is taken for granted. And, they leave.
Building a great team is not easy, but it is much harder when leaders don’t reward their top performers or consider the symbolic message they send to everyone by how they share valuable resources. Never take the best performers for granted. One day, you might find only those who can’t leave remain.