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Do you wonder why a few of your handpicked team members can’t seem to escape the gravitational pull of sub-par performance? Do you unconsciously use human attribution theory to explain and judge your people’s lackluster performance or failings?

Perhaps the problem is not with your people but with your own belief systems, and possibly, your training and coaching skills. Your skill sets regarding human potential and motivation may need an upgrade.

High performing manager-coaches are keenly aware that their expectations of their people often become self-fulfilling. When others fall short of achievable performance results the emotionally intelligent manager first looks in the mirror to reflect on potential flaws in their thinking and competencies.


These Rats Are Really Smart!

A lab experiment was conducted to measure experimenter expectancy on rats’ maze running abilities. Two groups of unsuspecting students (the rat handlers) were informed that one group of rats were bred to be “maze bright” and the other group “maze dull,” when in fact the entire group were standard lab rats divided randomly.

The rats labeled “bright,” well, made the podium. The expectation of the rat handlers influenced the rats’ performance. Nuts, right? Apparently the “bright” rats were handled differently and thought to themselves “I’m smart, people like me, and I’m going to crush this maze course today.”


Management Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Effective manager-coaches embrace the Pygmalion Effect (HBR article) – believing that most employees’ performance will rise or fall to their leader’s level of expectations. Believe it. In medicine, this phenomenon of human expectancy and results is accepted as the placebo effect.

However, do not confuse genuine belief in people’s innate abilities with Pollyanna thinking. The effective manager deals in reality on the ground, not naivety, or unfiltered positive bias.

Believing that people are capable of producing great results puts the manager squarely on the hook for three heavy-lifting goals:

  1. Recruiting and Retaining Top Talent. Effective manager-coaches do stay up at night appropriately worrying that they have the right team on the bus, knowing that their organizations are only as strong as their weakest employee. As undeniably brilliant as Steve Jobs was, his real mastery was in selecting really smart and capable people (it’s reported that Steve personally conducted over 5,000 interviews). Impetuous in his early years, Steve evolved into a great manager.
  2. Embodying High Performance Expectations for Producing Excellent Products and Services. Great managers are tough on principles and standards but gentle on their people. People have an innate desire to be successful, however, many have never been called upon to be great. Wholeheartedly believing in the potential of others is the greatest service a manager can perform.
  3. Becoming a Master Teacher and Coach. The loss of an individual’s hidden talent was named the 8th Deadly Waste in Toyota’s Lean Manufacturing system. Being skilled at selecting top talent only brings the manager and his or her team part way up the performance mountain. “Sweeney’s Miracle,” drives home the mandatory requirement that managers believe in the ability to train and motivate others to high achievement. Simple belief in people’s potential, minus capable training and teaching, falls into the categories of hopes and dreams.


Manage Around High Standards, Never Personality or Tenure

Davie was a rising star in my restaurant. He possessed natural talent, had a positive attitude, and was a rare 15-year-old workhorse. He was rapidly promoted; along with commensurate pay increases to the very demanding sauté cook position by the time he was 17 years old.

Unfortunately, Davie’s maturity didn’t keep pace with his talent. He became cocky, undisciplined in following strict menu standards, and less open to feedback. Under my radar, he quietly built a power base with the younger kitchen crew who, not surprisingly, adapted his cavalier attitude.

After giving Davie several sincere course-correcting opportunities he chose the lone ranger path – not an option in our team-oriented kitchen culture. A Top Gun will always test your principles, values, and management fortitude. Davie was an exceptional kid and, like most of us, was full of insecurities. My unshakable belief in his abilities to take on more responsibilities never wavered, even when he made mistakes, and he made plenty. His achievements might not have fully manifested had I simply expected greatness out of him. However, my resolute belief combined with his steady progress in our Kitchen Professional training program, Davie’s capabilities blossomed.


Belief + High Expectations + Training = Sustained Performance


Start speaking and caring for your people as if they were really smart rats, while establishing and enforcing clear performance expectations. Commit to becoming an effective and inspiring manager-coach. Your people will start winning the maze course called work and you’ll establish yourself as a credible leader worth following.


As always, check out the resources page for more great information about how you can improve your manager-coaching skills today!


Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring.  -Steve