Advice writers love to give advice on how to be a leader--and usually the ideal they present is completely unrealistic. Instead of trying to envision ourselves as leaders with Buddha-like patience and Stephen Covey-like planning skills, let's take a look at some easy pitfalls that even a new or less-skilled manager can avoid.
7 Ways to Lose Your Key Players:
1. Promote All the Wrong People.
Maybe your star player is the person everyone trusts to find solutions, or maybe they're the person that everyone knows will pick up the slack on any given project, or maybe they're the best at bringing the team together. Whatever the case may be, your team will notice if and when you promote someone else above their defacto chosen leader, and the end result can be a loss of more than one disenfranchised team member.
2. Don't Give a Flip About What Your Stars Care About.
Yep, it may seem silly to go to the CEO because your star player really wants new office chairs, or to reprint an entire project because one of the chapters just doesn't meet your star's personal standards; but there's a sound reason to get on board with their frustrations. Showing them that you care on the things that really irk them can be a great way to build a genuine sympatico, a great sense of loyalty, and it can help bank you some credit for the next time you need your star's backing on an issue of your own.
3. Fail to Compensate or Reward.
After all the candy bars and pinball machines have lost their shine, there's really just two ways that a company shows its appreciation for productivity: compensation, and title. Providing your star with the title they've earned shows that you're willing to publicly declare your satisfaction with their work; compensating accordingly shows you're not just talking the talk.
4. Actually believe that Executive-Level Dilemmas Are Relevant to Their Daily Lives.
There's very little decision-making at the top of the food chain that ultimately affects the daily activities or pain points of your staff. Represent your team with the execs as they talk about mission statements and five year visions; but make sure you spend more of your time listening to the things that actually help or hinder daily production.
5. Refuse to Praise.
When the heat is on and crisis hits your company, all the monetary compensation and grandiose titles won't stop your star player from checking out...but your enthusiastic accolades may make it feel like all the sweat was worth it because the efforts were truly appreciated.
6. Work Less (or Less Seriously) Than They Do.
If your star is sending you weekend emails trying to iron out that last-minute client request but you're just not getting back to them, you'll likely end up with a star that loses momentum. And lost momentum usually means a loss of focus, and a wandering eye...over to your competitor, perhaps. You've basically got two choices here: either adapt their workload so they, too, can take weekends off; or up your own game and jump into some of the overtime--it'll go faster with two heads, anyway.
7. Be Reactive Instead of Proactive When Problems Arise.
Your star is likely highly attuned to the ebb and flow of the workplace. If he can see how important a problem is but you seem to keep putting off a solution for another time, you may lose his confidence. Not only will he get tired of watching problems spiral out of control, he'll also start to worry about his name being associated with your reactionary errors. That's a surefire way to see him heading for the door.
In all, it's Easier to Avoid Sins Than to Be a Saint.
Maintaining your star team members may not make you a 'perfect leader', but it's a helluva good place to start. In the end, you may not be the best meeting facilitator or the next Dale Carnegie, but with some minor effort you can at least avoid scaring off your best players. Your team is what makes you look good, so take good care of your achievers and they'll keep making you shine.