Rock Solid Mediocrity

Photo of the turtle of mediocrity
Mediocre Turtle – copyright ©2016 David J Crone

Last weekend I spoke at the Ohio Linux Fest in Columbus, OH, giving a presentation called, Situational Leadership – Leading when you are not the boss.” During the Q & A session, I was asked for a few ideas on how to take people on your team from Mediocre to Great. While I think my answer at the time was OK. In hindsight, I’d have to say it was mediocre.

Anyone who knows me well, knows my feelings about mediocrity. If you want a refresher, here is a previous post on the topic.

After a bit of thought, I think there’s a better answer I could have given. It starts with two questions:

Q: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?  [A: Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change.]

Q: Is the person capable of doing better? That is, are they currently coasting along doing just enough to get by, or are they already operating at the top of their game?

The first question, while stated in the form of an old classic joke, is critical. Does the person want to change? Do they have any interest at all in doing better, improving their skills, or their level of performance?

The second question is even more critical. It’s also not always an easy one to answer. You, as team leader / captain / manager, can’t necessarily answer it. You may have an opinion (He’s just lazy!), but you might be wrong. It is entirely possible that the person IS capable of doing more / better / faster, if only given the proper motivation and probably additional education. And it’s also possible that they simply don’t care.

But, here’s the deal. Sometimes you have someone on your team who is a rock solid mediocre performer. And guess what? Sometimes that’s just fine.

What? Did you just say it was OK to be mediocre? Yep. I did.

For some people, a job is just that – a job. It is something to which they show up, turn the crank, then leave. And they do it day after day after day.

It is that very rock solid level of dependability that makes them valuable members of the team, just as they are.

Now, personally, I have trouble relating to these people. Because I think work can be so much more. Thus, this blog. But, just because I can’t relate, doesn’t mean I can’t also honor and respect them. And make good use of them.

Not “take advantage” of them. Utilize them.

Many times, we need someone on the team who is willing to do the tedious, day after day, steady tasks. I find this kind of thing boring and can think of little I would want to do less. But, there are people who find great satisfaction in showing up, turning the crank, doing the same repetitive set of tasks day after day after day. It is this very repetitiveness (that I find boring) that brings them joy.

Sometimes that mediocre team member is the bedrock of a high-performing team.

So, if you have a mediocre performer on your team who is clearly capable of doing more AND they have an interest in becoming better, by all means support and encourage them. But, if that mediocre performer happens to be your rock solid, steady on, reliable, day to day task tackler, be grateful they’re on your team and move on.