How to Rise Above Squeaky-Wheel Leadership and Energize Top Performance

Squeaky-wheel leaders spend too much time focused on broken stuff.

The seduction of squeaky-wheel leadership makes confused leaders feel important. But, ultimately it means:

  1. Failure outshines progress.
  2. Poor performers take priority over top.
  3. Environments migrate toward low energy and disengagement.


Today’s HR challenge is retaining and maximizing top performers while developing the middle.

Compassion versus a kick in the pants:

#1. Lean toward compassion, when top performers fall short. Typically, they kick themselves in the pants already. A kind word from you is gold when top performers feel disappointed in themselves.

#2. Avoid contradicting top performer’s self-condemnation. It falls on deaf ears. Agree with them instead. You’re right. You did fall short.

Compassion is turning toward the future with renewed focus and energy, not shielding people from reality.

‘Woe is me’ never produces forward movement.

#3. Enable forward-facing reflection.

  • Express confidence. If history tells me anything, you’ll  rise to the challenge next time.
  • Focus on development. What are you learning? 
  • How does this disappointment enhance your capacity and expand your ability?

#4. Pull with.

The magic words of servant-leadership are, “How can I help?”.

#5. Provide bodacious challenge. Don’t shy away from laying down new challenges after disappointing performance.

Raise the bar, don’t lower it. Top performers relish a chance to prove themselves. After all, if you learn from failure, you reach higher next time.

New challenges, after disappointing performance, let top performers know you still believe in them.

What energizes top performers after disappointing performance?

How might compassion be useful? Unuseful?