Too many leaders get caught in a people versus performance trap that neither helps the people nor the team’s performance. These leaders give themselves too much credit for being able to change others, and they over-invest in the wrong people at the expense of the rest of the individuals in an organization.

They sacrifice performance by backing or retaining the wrong people based on the naive belief that given enough time and attention even the most mediocre of performers are capable of becoming uber-stars. This pitfall of what most would describe as a thoughtful, creative and people-focused leader is all too common and left unchecked, can debilitate teams, destroy a performance culture and derail an otherwise promising leadership career.

Beware the false prophet of people over everything. It will kick you in the teeth every time.

Remember, your job is to get the right people on the metaphorical bus … get them in the right seats and then do everything you possibly can to help them hone and apply what they are good at in support of the organization’s cause.

Your job is also to assess people, provide feedback, support growth and yes, to make the calls on who moves ahead, who stays in place and who is invited off the bus.

The performance clock is always ticking.

3 Things Not to Do When It Comes to Leading People

1. Focus on Fixing Weaknesses. No one assigned you the mantle of Weakness Fixer-in-Chief. Heal thyself first, and when it comes to others, exploit strengths. If you uncover a weakness on the road to exploiting strengths and if and only if it is “coachable” or teachable, invest in offering help.

2. Expect You Can Build Character. You should hire for character and you should fire for lack of character, but you are neither the U.S. Marines nor the employee’s mother. You should support an environment where values are on display and ethical choices identified as the only choices, but you cannot teach character to those who lack it.

3. Hold Performance Hostage While You “Build” People. This one is the trap of those I describe as misguided people-focused leader wannabes. They rationalize under-performance on the altar of being people-focused. They make excuses for the missteps of their team members. “She’ll learn,” or, “He gained valuable experience with that mistake,” are their mantras. Yes, people should learn and they will make mistakes, but when you find yourself making constant excuses for poor performers, the rest of the organization suffers.

The Bottom-Line for Now

I understand how this might sound cold and callous to many. It’s not. You should choose your team members carefully, work hard to support them, challenge people to move beyond their proverbial comfort zones, and, you should assess when enough is enough. It’s incredibly selfish and plain wrong to do anything other than focus on ensuring that everyone around you is capable of and actively working toward high performance. If you are making decisions to retain people for reasons other than their ability to contribute in alignment with the firm’s values and strategies, then you are part of the problem.

This blog originally appeared at

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