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Allocate More Time for Your Lead Dogs

Are we giving the most valuable producers and leaders on our teams the time, attention, and resources they need and deserve from us? Or have we drifted into over-investing in the average and poor performers who may “need” us more but who ultimately offer less to our teams and our businesses?  We cannot invest equally in everyone. By investing in strong performers who align with our vision and values, we develop the leaders who can in turn help everyone else perform at a higher level.

Today I live in the Philadelphia area, but I lived for a number of years in St. Louis, which is where I first got into riding and racing bicycles. One beautiful Saturday morning my friends and I were taking a long bike ride on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River in the river flats, a long length of farmland that traces the river’s bank. We were rolling down a paved road with fields on either side. Off to our left, at least a half mile away, a pack of farm dogs was running in parallel with us, barking and yelping and fantasizing about having a mouthful of our legs for breakfast. But they didn’t seem like much of a threat because instead of taking the direct route directly across the fields to reach us, these dogs were running parallel with us around the perimeter of the fields. Their path and our pace ensured that they would never reach us. I kept my eye on them – on a bike, you watch everything that could do you harm – but I was not worried.

That changed when one of the dogs that had been at the back of the pack stopped in its tracks, popped its head up, looked around, and suddenly changed his course. Instead of running along the edge of the field, he now cut directly across the fields and quickly began to close the gap between us.  His buddies, while unable to come up with this approach on their own, were more than happy to follow suit. Now, the entire dog pack was baying and barking and drawing uncomfortably close to our legs. In response, my friends and I went from a leisurely Saturday morning ride to an out-of-the-saddle, race-paced, and oxygen-deprived sprint in order to leave our canine friends behind and having to find another source for their breakfast.

This one savvy dog and his willingness to stop, think, and change course gave his entire pack a much better shot at reaching their goal – us. It’s the same in our teams. Right now there are a handful of people on our teams who are good at what they do and bought into our vision & values. They are the ones who can and should set the pace for the whole team.

The question for us is whether we are giving our own “lead dogs” enough time, focus, and resources?  I ask because in my experience many of us can focus too much on average to poor performers vs. their best people. Why? Because they are easier to deal with. The poor performers are squeaky wheels who always require our attention but rarely challenge us. The average performers want to do a good job but often want us to tell them what to do – and we oblige.

The best people – the lead dogs – are often another matter altogether. They have strong personalities. They have ideas of their own, and more than frequently these ideas conflict with our ideas.  They see things that others don’t see and voice their frustrations with things that others tolerate.  They are high maintenance. Make no mistake; they need us just as much if not more than the average and poor performers. But they want and need different things than the others do.

If poor performers need hand holding and strict accountability, and average performers need direction and follow up, the best people want us to invest in their ideas, remove obstacles from their path, and then get out of their way. We often have to sublimate our own egos in order to support their progress. Furthermore, while I can assure you they don’t want it, they also need us to challenge them, disagree with them, and even fight with them – but always in ways that communicate we are their biggest fans.  In other words, lead dogs are more difficult, more challenging, and require more time and attention. But they are the key to long-term, sustainable success.  They are the people who come up with the innovative ideas and the daring new approaches that the entire team will follow.

We all know that we should surround ourselves with people better than we are. The problem is they can be a real pain! However, if we are going to be good lead dogs ourselves, let’s stop, survey our teams, and ask ourselves in whom we should invest more and in whom we should invest less.  Some questions to consider in this light are:

  • Do we know how our best people are doing? Have we asked them recently?
  • What resources, time, and attention do our best people need from us that are different from those further back in the pack?
  • What roadblocks are frustrating our pacesetters?  Can we move quickly to get rid of them?
  • Are our best people being stymied by leaders in other parts of the business?  If so, how can we help to break down this resistance?

When we ask these questions and act upon the answers, we ensure that our leadership and management time gets the biggest possible return on investment.  We set the lead dogs up for success, knowing that they will blaze the path for everyone else.


Article reposted with permission from Herrenkohl Consulting.

Eric Herrenkohl is a retained executive search consultant. He is also the author of How to Hire A-Players, published by Wiley and described as “the definitive book on talent acquisition.” For more of Eric’s articles and video clips, visit