Refocusing the Unfocused by Jim Johnson

I’m sure you’ve experienced this. You have an employee who thinks they are the next leader in line. They tell others this. They even go as far as stating that they’ve been promised some new position. Or they walk around pouting because they don’t have what they were “promised”.

How do these employees get into this kind of thinking? I have some thoughts:

1. They need some courageous and honest conversations.

Coaching sessions can be great if the coaching is direct and honest. Employees who are under-performing should not be walking out of a meeting feeling they are on track for a promotion. They should understand the necessary action plan to get them on the road to improvement.

2. They don’t see themselves as their peers see them.

Employees who want to be leaders often see themselves in leadership roles in what they are currently doing. But no one else does. Others are not seeking them out for assistance or advice. If you were to ask the peer group who the leaders are, this person’s name would not make the top 3 list.

3. They equate work on small projects – and the “busy-ness” that goes with that – as results.

Projects need to happen. There is a lot of extra work required. But folks who expect to be the next in line leader often think that this work automatically propels them to the leadership ranks. In fact, they might point to this work to prove their “rights” to leadership. Results are results. I’ve seen employees who lean on project work vs. actual performance results to demonstrate they are deserving of a promotion. Again, go back to #1 and have an honest and direct coaching session.

4. They equate knowledge as the sole rite of passage to leadership.

I love employees who know their job. But knowledge alone does not qualify someone for leadership. I’m not suggesting, though, that leaders don’t need to know their area of expertise. They do! And we all know leaders who are in the dark – it’s painful to work with or under them.

5. They love drama.

I hate drama at work. Nothing sucks the life out of productivity, collaboration, and cooperation than drama. I’ve seen many want-to-be leaders drum up drama in an attempt to get people on their side and to create a “them” – which they can then blame for their own shortcomings . When you see drama starting up, work to eliminate it before Act 1 is over. Few win in drama at work.

A tactic I use to help refocus the unfocused is this: I work to help them understand that if they want to move up in a company, they have much (if not most) to do with the process. I tell them that in order for them to advance they must become…

the right person doing the right thing at the right time…

The right person speaks of character – being the kind of person that others want to be around. The kind of person that represents the company well in and out of the office.

The right thing is defined by the company. It’s the goals/objectives that will bring success to the company. It’s the personal performance metrics each employee is responsible for.

The right time is out of the control of the employee. We never know when opportunity will come our way. We are responsible for being ready for it. In a company, in my opinion, you must focus on being the right person doing the right things…and then when the time is right, you are in the best possible position to set up and cause others to take notice of you.

If this employee has character issues that cause others to not trust them…if they are not meeting expectations in their role…then the time should never be right for them.


So, today, who do you need to help refocus?


Footnote: I’ve written a short workbook entitled “Right On” that expands on the above thoughts.  You can find it here:


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