Just about every workplace has one; that guy or gal who never delivers, but always has an excuse. It’s never their fault. There’s always some external reason that explains why the project wasn’t completed on time or the sales goal wasn’t met or customer satisfaction is down. Despite their best efforts, someone or something got in the way. And it’s too bad, really, because they would’ve hit a home run if not for the obstacle in their path.
But press these people on the details and you’ll find out there really never was a plan for success; just another string of excuses. You quickly start to deduce that they never really intended to perform at all. While others are working hard all around them, their goal is to expend as little effort as possible. They just show up every day doing the bare minimum necessary to collect a paycheck.
It’s always a tragedy when a top performer quits and leaves. It’s worse when they quit and stay. I call these people former performers. At one time, they represented the organization’s best and brightest. They were full of potential and full of passion. Others looked up to them, went to them for advice, and trusted them to show the way. [Tweet “It’s always a tragedy when a top performer quits and leaves. It’s worse when they quit and stay.”]
But something changed. Something caused them to lose their passion. The fire inside died and they’ve grown cold. Without that internal spark, there’s nothing to push them on, nothing driving them to succeed or challenging them to create something new. Now they’ve quit. They don’t perform, they just get in the way and slow things down – like a speedbump. And everybody hates speedbumps.
Some lose the spark following a big letdown. A major project didn’t go their way. They no longer occupy a key position. Someone else has risen up and stolen their limelight. They feel like they’ve fallen from the summit (or been pushed off) and the grapes are sour.
Others just get used to being told “no.” Their ideas have turned down so many times, it feels like death by a thousand cuts. Eventually, they start coming up with obstacles themselves. I guess it’s less painful to recognize a perceived barrier and abandon your idea than it is to have someone else squash it for you.
Perhaps for some, it’s a more natural degradation of passion. Their interests no longer align with that of the organization or the team. Industry changes have sucked some of the fun out of the job. Changes to their life situation has shifted personal priorities. Maybe burn out has set in.
Regardless of the cause, former performers hurt the team. Their passive aggressive approach sucks the energy from a room and steals the momentum from the team. The impact is even more profound when you consider that these individuals typically occupy leadership positions. That’s right, former performers are usually found in management – the perfect place to kill productivity while avoiding accountability.
Former performers talk a good game – in fact, they are often very good at fooling the executive suite – but they absolutely fail the test when it comes to personal accountability. They don’t perform. They don’t take responsibility. They don’t care. And because they don’t leave, others are forced to pick up the slack.
Here’s how you avoid becoming a former performer:
- Commit to always doing your best. Don’t give up or give in just because there are obstacles in the way. Remind yourself that the easy road isn’t always the right one and that the tough victories are always the sweetest. Keep in mind that giving yourself permission to stop caring, even for a brief period, is a dangerous step. Don’t go there. Just don’t.
- Align yourself with other top performers. Misery loves company, but so does success. If you’re not regularly working alongside people who seek excellence at every turn, then you’re likely hanging out with losers. Stick around too long, and you’ll become one yourself. Find the best and become part of that group.
- Work toward a vision. If you don’t have a vision of some better future state, then you are doomed to wander aimlessly. What do you want your job, the team, and the organization to look like a year from now? If you can’t articulate this, then what is it that’s driving you forward? Work with the other “A” players around you to create a vision of what could be and then push each other, and yourselves, to make it a reality.
Are you a top performer, or a former performer? Can you make an honest assessment? If you look in the mirror and see a former performer, it’s not too late for you. It’s not too late to reignite the spark and regain the passion that once fueled your best work. It’s there if you want it. So are the top performers around you. They’re waiting to add your passion and creativity to theirs. All you have to do is decide to join them.
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