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The Making of a CEO: Getting Superior Performance from Ordinary People

We'd all like to have a team of superstars, but that's just wishful thinking. What you need is extraordinary performance from ordinary people.
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As leaders, we all want a team of superstars. But by definition, there are more ordinary performers in the world than there are extraordinary, and Murphy’s Law ensures that they always wind up on your team. The result: You’ve got a group of average, normal people that must take on formidable challenges.

How do you get an average team to produce extraordinary results?  It is possible. The key isn’t in getting folks to work harder, although that can help. The key is getting them to work smarter, first by making better decisions. Once the decision-making is improved, it makes more sense for people to work harder. Incremental improvement on good ideas can produce a step change in terms of performance. To improve your decisions:

Educate. Helping your group understand the difference between an average decision and a superior one. When a member of your team makes a decision, show them how it can be improved. Make everyone stretch. Eliminate the propensity of average employees to do what has always been done in the past, using the same tools and approaches as before.

Set expectations. Create a culture that instructs and enlightens individuals to consistently make better decisions. At the beginning, it may feel like you are the only one making any good decisions at all. You need to encourage everyone to buy into the bigger mission and to make better decisions.

Empower. As you begin to see that the team is on the right path, empower the folks who have leadership potential to continually improve upon the plan and keep it on the right course. Impress upon each of them their specific role, and celebrate both individual and team results. Don’t let anyone slip back into their comfort zone of the status quo.

Stay the course. Take a page from Peter Schultz, the CEO of Porsche. He turned his company around in the mid-80s, and wrote a book about it. He is famous for saying that one should “plan democratically and implement like a dictator.”

Achieving superior results will always get you noticed, but doing so with an ordinary team forces you to show your mettle a lot faster.

Last updated: Jun 4, 2012

DON RAINEY | Columnist | General Partner, Grotech Ventures

Don Rainey is a General Partner with Grotech Ventures, which invests in early stage technology companies. He was named to the Washingtonian Magazine Tech Titans List and earned the Northern Virginia Technology Council?s Lifetime Navigator award for his support of entrepreneurs. Don blogs at VC in DC at http://startups.typepad.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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