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The Greatest and Most Often Missed Leadership Opportunity in Higher Ed.

What do you think is the most important resource for colleges and universities? It often feels like the budget is the most critical resource, but it isn’t. People are what matters most.

You knew that, right? And I bet you spend a significant amount of time dealing with people-issues such as work performance, communication, conflict, and accountability.

In fact, many of you would admit that difficult employees and challenging situations tend to dominate your thoughts and your focus. There are problems to solve and fires to put out. That’s the life of an administrator.

But when that happens, you forget the most important thing.

You forget to give attention to the high performers on your team. They are your greatest assets and yet, you don’t make time for them.

The leadership gap

If you are so busy dealing with problems that you have no mind-space or energy left to keep your high performers engaged and fulfilled, you are missing out on your biggest opportunity.

I call high performers those who have integrity, high work ethics, and do an outstanding job without needing any supervision. But make no mistake. They don’t need supervision but they still need leadership and appreciation.

If you give them no attention because you see no problem to fix, it won’t be long until the high performers start feeling that something is missing. They need you to notice their exemplary work, express appreciation, and reward them with new opportunities for growth.

Having different standards

About ten years ago, I was told by my Dean: “With you, I don’t have to worry about anything. You don’t need supervision.” He meant it as a compliment but it was the most discouraging thing I had heard in a long time.

At that time in my life, I was 100% focused on my career. My job was my identity and my sense of self-worth depended on my work performance. I held myself to high standards and I would have liked my boss to see it. But his feedback was that I didn’t need supervision... Evidently, his goal was to avoid troubles and my efforts to go above and beyond my responsibilities were not acknowledged.

Now that I am older and I have my priorities straight, I can see clearly how my attachment to high performance was excessive and how my Dean was consumed by problems to solve. He couldn’t relate to me and I couldn’t relate to him.

This type of disconnect happens every day.

Your best employees want passion, purpose, progress, and success. They actually need very little from you, especially compared to your problem employees, but forgetting to meet their needs is a huge mistake. If you can’t provide an environment where their needs can be met, no matter how loyal they are, sooner or later they will look elsewhere.

What high performers need

The good news is that there is very little you need to do to keep high performers happy and engaged. If you remember to do the following, you will strengthen their work satisfaction and loyalty.

1. Opportunities to take initiative, innovate, and make improvements

2. Acknowledgement for their good work

3. Being trusted with new responsibilities rather than given more busy work

4. Communication on strategic planning (going both ways)

5. Your support when they propose new ideas

6. A seat at the table when you discuss their area of expertise

7. Your help on the very rare occasions they ask for it

Take interest in what they are doing even if there is no need for you to step in and fix problems. Make time to listen and show appreciation. Make sure they know how much you value their contributions to the campus.

What de-motivates high performers

High performers don’t complain because they know better, but they still have thoughts and feelings. Here are some situations that are likely to hurt their motivation and desire to keep working for you.

1. Lack of accountability. When co-workers don’t pull their own weight and get away with it, high performers can get resentful.

2. Privileges and special accommodations. When your problem employees are granted special accommodations to deal with their unreasonable demands, other employees will see you as a poor leader.

3. If high performers requests for something justified and reasonable don’t get answered. High performers don’t nag. If you ignore them, they will carry on without your help and judge you for dropping the ball. They deserve respect and shouldn’t have to hunt you down to get an answer from you.

4. Not giving credit where credit is due. High performers won’t call you out on it, but they will learn they can’t trust you.

5. Saying one thing and doing another. If you make promises but don’t keep them, either because you change your mind easily or you let others influence you, you will be seen as having no back bone. High performers won’t trust you and may have difficulty respecting you.

6. If you make questionable decisions without any explanations. If your judgement is often questioned and not understood, high performers will feel like they don’t belong on your team.

7. Not taking interest in your high performers’ career goals. Their career is important to them and should be important to you too. Think career advancement and succession planning.

I urge you to start paying more attention to your high performers. They are not needy or high-maintenance and therefore are often overlooked. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” is not a good leadership practice.

Many of my clients seek my help to handle conflict resolution, performance issues, teamwork, and motivation. They tend to focus on their problem employees and forget to reward their best employees, because dealing with crisis is more urgent than maintaining loyalty. That’s one huge missed opportunity.

Please appreciate your high performers and tell them how much you value them. You can’t afford to lose them and it’s very easy to keep them happy. So do it!

If you would like to speak with me about workplace issues we can resolve together, click here to schedule a free consultation.

About the author:

Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, online courses, and interviews on international telesummits. Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset. For more information and free resources visit