Success is a function of hard work. The
harder you work, the greater your
contribution will be.
Unless you feel tired at the end of the working day you have not been
working effectively. When you feel tired is the time to stop—but that
does not mean that feeling tired is bad or wrong. The trap is to take it
easy and avoid the difficult stuff that saps energy.
Any success in life—whether completing a marathon, winning a
competition, or even writing a book—requires hard work. It means
applying concentrated doses of energy to accomplish each intermediate
step of the plan as well as to cope with the unplanned.
Team leaders who do the biz have learnt that lesson and developed a
hard-working style. They are so committed and passionate about what
they do that they are prepared to put a considerable amount of effort
hour by hour and day by day into achieving the desired results. They
know that the harder they personally work and the harder the team
works, the greater the probability of success in relation to the
When in hard work mode they resist any amusing diversions and
distractions in order to focus their energies on the desired end result
that day, whether it means speaking to 50 customers,
meeting 50 employees, or making 50 telephone calls.
On rare occasions this means putting in long
hours, starting early, finishing late, and working
through lunch. But not on every occasion, because
that is dangerous. Working hard is not
synonymous with long hours. Nor is it
synonymous with being a workaholic who
never stops. Doing the biz means putting
focused effort into the time you are on the job.
It is easy to motivate people to work hard. They just have to have a
good reason for doing so—and the boss’s task is to ensure that this
reason (the cause) is effectively communicated, is understood, and is
subscribed to with a high degree of passion and commitment.
Furthermore, people need to enjoy what they are doing. Team
members are more likely to work hard when they are having fun doing
so and can see some tangible results from their efforts.
Hard work is not merely about physical
energy. It is also about adrenalin and emotional
energy. These are essential ingredients to keep
any individual or team going. The will to work
hard emanates from the heart, not the mind.
Logic will always step in and say “don’t work as
hard” and at times it is right to apply this logic.
However, what powers people on and on and on
is the adrenalin and the emotional drives asserting
that this objective is so important to us that we must devote all our
available energies to achieving it.
When it comes to improvement, doing the biz means practice and
practice and practice. That is hard work—but it is what the superstars
do. Opera singer Pavarotti once said, “I practice one hundred times to
be good while others only practice ten times.” Golfer Tiger Woods
commented, “The harder I practice the luckier I become.” The more
you work hard at practicing and improving what you do, the greater
success you will have.
Hard work involves sacrifice. It means going without the easier
and more pleasurable things while concentrating your energies on
attaining the desired result. The pleasure can come later when you
Discuss with your team what hard work means in practice.
Encourage them to define it and apply it.
The harder the competition, the harder the
work to be done.
PRAISE REGULARLY AND
Focus on praising people and helping
them find better ways when things go wrong.
Shoshila tells a story about her manager, Ravi, when a customer
complained about a lack of response from the hotel in Mauritius
where they worked. The customer had sent a fax from Paris seeking
confirmation of a reservation. Shoshila was about to end her shift
and found the computer system freezing up on her. So she left the
fax to be dealt with by a colleague about to come on shift. Five days
later there was a second fax from the customer stating: “Given your
failure to respond to my previous fax I have made a reservation
elsewhere and no longer require the one I thought I had made with
When Ravi saw this he simply drew an
unhappy face on the customer’s fax, signed the
drawing, and passed it back to Shoshila (along
with a copy of his response to the customer).
“We knew we had made a major mistake and
lost vital business and customer goodwill during
difficult times,” explained Shoshila, “but Ravi did
not say a word. He just drew this miserable face
and passed it back to us. We knew we had let him down and had upset
It was a rare reprimand and one given with the lightest of touches.
When people make mistakes there is no need to bear heavily down on
them as some bosses do with their storming, shouting, witchhunts,
and severe warnings. These bosses create a culture of intimidation and
fear in which mistakes are never made for the simple reason that
front-line people never make decisions—they leave them to the
Too much reprimanding leads to defenses being erected and failure
not being admitted. People become hard because they see their bosses
as hard. This is counter-productive.
Managers who do the biz prefer to focus on praising people, while
still accepting that they occasionally make mistakes. The time to
reprimand someone is not when a
mistake has been made, but when they
don’t learn any lessons from that
Lyn Graham is chief internal auditor
at Portsmouth City Council in the UK.
When a mistake is made she always asks
her team, “What did I do wrong?” She never blames the team or its
individual members. Instead, she looks at herself and asks, “What could I
have done better to avoid the team making this mistake?”
One of the key tasks of a team leader is to seek out examples of
excellent performance and then praise team members for it. Most
people welcome praise provided that it is sincere, genuine, and
reflects some significant aspect of their work. Nobody likes false
praise or bosses who use superficial praise as a cheap motivational
Nevertheless, it is not difficult to seek out opportunities to give
genuine praise and this is what the best team leaders do. In addition to
seeking out good performance, they also identify the characteristics they
like about people and praise them for these.
A kind word of praise for the good things someone has done is far
better than continually reprimanding them for the things they have not
done. (There is more on how to give praise in The Buzz, the companion
book to this one.)
Find five genuine things to praise about your team today—and
then go and praise them. Meanwhile, forget about reprimanding
There is nothing like genuine praise to boost
an individual’s self-esteem.
“If there is one thing I can
praise my team leader for,
it’s that she is always
Let team members know where they
stand with you.
Everything little thing you do as a boss will be observed by your team
and used as evidence in forming their opinion of you. When you are not
straight with people, second-guessing becomes the order of the day. By
being straight with team members you encourage them to be straight
Lack of straightness in communication happens all the time. People
are always having to interpret each other’s behavior, for the simple
reason that few feel able to be totally honest with others. In suppressing
our thoughts and feelings about team members we inadvertently allow
our behavior to do the talking for us. It is the look on our face rather
than the words we utter, it is the action we take rather the words that
explain it. It is when a friend passes us by and does not even say hello. It
is when a colleague criticizes us behind our
back. It is when our boss neglects to invite us
to an important meeting.
One reason team leaders are not straight
is because they don’t want to demotivate
people. They are afraid that people would
rather not hear what they have to say, or that
open and honest criticism will damage a team member’s self-esteem
and the individual will react defensively. Therefore they avoid the risk of
spelling things out.
The whole area of being open and honest with people is thus fraught
with difficulty. That is why so many bosses turn a blind eye, tolerate
perceived poor performance, and only take action when it is too late.
Too often people are fired for doing a bad job when all along they
thought they were doing a good one. Nobody had been straight with
them and informed them otherwise.
The solution to this conundrum lies in the purpose of being straight.
If the intention is to hurt the person by making him or her look foolish,
then obviously you should withhold the remark. Too many people speak
their minds with the intention of putting another person down.
However, if the intention is to help the individual by drawing attention
to some opportunity for improvement, being straight is essential.
The setting for the communication is also important. If you are going
to be straight with a person it is best to do it one-to-one rather than in
public. It is also best to give some prior thought to how you are going to
handle the communication.
On balance, people respect team leaders who tell them where they
stand. They need to have answers to the following basic questions:
❖ “Does my boss think I am doing a good job or not?”
❖ “Does my boss let me know when he feels good about me?”
❖ “Does my boss let me know when she feels bad about me?”
❖ “Does my boss want me to be successful?”
❖ “Does my boss really care about the contribution I make?”
People are motivated when they know what is inside the team leader’s
mind, what they are thinking and feeling, and how this affects them as
team members. They respect bosses who are completely open and
honest. There are no hidden corners of negative thinking, of bad
feelings, of grudges and dislikes, let alone of favored and unfavored
people. With these team leaders everything is out on the table. If one
team member moves out of line the team leader steps in and is straight
with him or her: “I am not happy with the way you reacted to your
Bosses who do the biz pick up and comment constructively on the
little things, because they know that it is these that make a big
Make a point of sitting down regularly with your people to tell
them what you think of them. Encourage them to be straight with
you too. You need to know what they think of you.
The team leaders whom people respect most
are those who are straight with them.
FIRE POOR PERFORMERS
Never tolerate persistent substandard
performance. It is better to fire people
than for customers to fire your company.
Nobody likes to fire people, but it has to be done. There will come a
time in every manager’s career when someone who has not performed
needs to be let go. You cannot put everyone else at risk by tolerating
persistent substandard performance, which risks not only the
reputation of the business with customers but your commitment to
shareholders. If a team member consistently fails to deliver the agreed
contribution or comply with the accepted standards, then he or she has
In a highly competitive world there are always winners, runners-
up, and people who come third. These people normally survive.
However, coming last there will always be a small minority of misfits
who never seem able to perform, no matter how much they promise
and no matter how much
encouragement is given by a team
leader. These people can be a huge
drain on a boss’s time and energies.
Jack Welch turned this process into
a fine art, commanding his managers every year to identify the worst
performers and fire them. His approach was stark and controversial, but
General Electric’s outstanding results during his 20 years there seem to
bear out its success.
While it feels good to be nice to people, when necessary the team
leader has to be prepared to call an underperforming individual into the
office and say, “Enough is enough, the line has been crossed, you haven’t
delivered despite all the improvement opportunities, now is the time for
you to go.”
You can make the process for firing people as pleasant as possible,
giving them generous checks and even saying some nice things for the
record, but in the end you have to be tough to survive as a boss. You
cannot allow a poor performer to drag the team down. As investment
expert Jim Slater said many years ago, “One has to be ruthless in
decision and compassionate in execution—when it
comes to firing people.”
Firing people can in fact be highly motivational,
not only for the team members who remain but also
for the victim. As one person said when asked to
leave an organization, “I don’t want to work for a
company that fires me.”
A lot of people bounce back after being sacked,
invigorated after a merciful release from a job to
which they could hardly admit to themselves they
I am not suggesting that every team leader should hold an annual
ceremonial execution to provide a systematic culling of poor
performers. However, I am recommending that bosses watch out for
the early danger signals of poor performance and act early, seeking
remedial action immediately and then firing the bullet if things don’t
improve. Inevitably mistakes will be made and some people will get
fired who should not be. It is pointless suing a company in these
circumstances. If it happens to you, the secret is to get on with your life
and exploit one of the infinite number of other opportunities that will be
It should be stressed that to be fair to everyone, a good boss will
agree with the team what constitutes poor performance and where the
line between that and good performance is drawn. Everyone should
understand where that line is.
Focus today on the danger signals of poor performance. Can
you recognize poor performance when you see it—and can you
deal with it effectively?
If you don’t put other people’s jobs on the line for poor performance,
your own job will be at risk.
Aim never to fire people. But when you do, be
sure of your aim.
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