High performers can lose their flow when they're not able to transfer their strengths to new roles

What if your high performers no longer like what they do?

By Heather Graham, LCSW, CEAP

Last month, we introduced the concept of flow and the use of character strengths in high performers. Flow is a term to describe when someone is fully immersed in an activity and they feel energized, focused and are enjoying the process.  Flow happens when someone is utilizing their specific character strengths daily, which increases drive and enjoyment of the job.  This is important for leaders in an organization because when those leaders are excelling they are engaged.  And when leaders are engaged the engagement rate and retention rates for employees also goes up.

However, sometimes formerly high performing leaders will lose that flow and are no longer engaging their top strengths.   Our coaches often get calls from organizations to help these managers and leaders who once were highly engaged and high performing but now struggle with finding satisfaction in the job.

High performers can lose their flow when they're not able to transfer their strengths to new roles

New Roles May Not Engage One’s Strengths

Why is this happening?  Ironically, the flow that high performers experienced that helped them to excel is precisely what got them promoted to leadership. However, now they are in a different role that requires different skills that are not engaging their strengths and they are no longer experiencing flow.  They are no longer doing the work that required their specific set of strengths. This underuse of strengths can cause drive and motivation to plummet.

Let’s look at an example.  Chris Smith was an excellent, high performing employee.  While an employee, he met all his performance goals, often ahead of schedule and consistently produced a high-quality product.  Chris was engaging his character strengths  – curiosity, creativity, judgement, honesty and appreciation for beauty and excellence.  He was at the top of the high performers on the team and shared ideas of how the team could be more strategic and productive.  He even was an effective trainer of his peers and had the people skills needed for a leadership role.  Chris was a natural fit for leadership.

Chris was promoted, but several months later he wasn’t feeling happy.  There were tasks that were not completed in a timely manner and the team seemed to not perform as well.  Chris noticed this too.  There was not as much motivation or drive to perform and Chris was feeling “lost” and “’unfocused” more often.

Strengths Don’t Always Transfer To New Roles

What happened?   Chris was no longer using his strengths.  The character strengths he may have used as an employee were not translating into his role as a supervisor.  He no longer used as much creativity or curiosity to figure out the best way to finish a project. His honesty was backfiring because he was “too blunt” and employees were offended at times or taken aback.  His desire for excellence was not utilized because he was no longer getting training in his technical skills.  He was not able to apply his strength of judgement (decision making skills) because now decisions were about people and deadlines rather than the technicalities of the product.  The inability to leverage his strengths started to make him feel deflated and unengaged.

Regaining Purpose in Your Work

Ultimately, Chris needed to get back to using his character strengths.  When his top character strengths were not being used, there was a loss of purpose in his work.  Working with people in a leadership role was a new skillset required in his new role. Those people skills were something he may not have been trained to do. In Chris’s case, his blunt honesty, previously seen as “just the way he is”, was now seen as offensive to those he supervised.  He needed to hone the honesty so that his message was clear and effective, but ensure that his audience was able to accept his message without being offended.

A Coach or Mentor Can Help High Performers Restore Flow

Helping an employee effectively transition into a new role can often by aided by a mentor or coach.  The mentor or coach can help induce that appreciation for excellence and help a newly promoted employee excel.  In Chris’s case, a coach or mentor could help him learn ways he can be creative and curious in managing his team rather than in the tasks that he used to complete.  By finding ways to integrate these strengths, Chris can go back to experiencing flow and re-engage in the job at hand.

Chris’s experience is not unusual. Experiences like his are often reported to our coaching team and management consultants.  When someone excels as an employee, they often are promoted. However, it takes a transfer of those strengths into the new setting to keep that drive and engagement up.  Some employees do this easily, others need a little support and guidance.  Once you know the employee’s strengths and how they play out, they can then be adjusted to new positions. Those strengths may also guide what positions best fit the employee’s growth.

About Espyr

Heather Graham is the creator of the Espyr Leadership Excellence and Development Coaching Program (LEAD).  LEAD is a structured coaching program designed to help people gain insight about themselves, their team and organization, improve performance, increase overall well-being, build resilience and overcome barriers preventing them from reaching their full potential.

Espyr is a leading behavioral health company with a mission to help people and organizations achieve their full potential.  For more information on the LEAD coaching program, please contact Heather Graham at hgraham@espyr.com or call 855-309-4426. For information on our comprehensive EAP and other innovative behavioral coaching programs, please call 888-570-3479.