I heard an insightful concept today about the safety of being “in the middle of the pack”. A person said that now that they have a “big girl/boy job” they found they are being measured every day against their peers. The company racks and stacks everyone’s performance and shares it each day with all of them. My days of “rack and stack” at GE forced people to do everything they could not to become a “C performer”. If that happened the person could expect a Performance Improvement Plan that was thought of as no more than a CYA before you were fired. In with the new batch; and a new round of racking and stacking.

In my case I traded long hours, always accepting a new challenge and time away from family for a continuous “A performer rating”. And I did learn a great deal working with some truly great leaders. The internal fun back then was to turn the “pay to perform” phrase around to “perform to pay”! (But not to get caught saying it.)

Six American Buffalo walking in line with the two in the center with happy faces on themGetting back to the insightful concept, the idea is to find safety in the “middle of the pack”. For example, if you think of a herd of Buffalo those at the back of the pack have the highest risk of being fired (upon). Those in the front of the pack are the first to be run off a cliff. The “guys” in the middle of the pack are pretty safe.

The concept is the same for a group of salespeople. The back-of-the-pack performers are at risk of being fired. Those at the front of the pack have targets on their back by the rest of their peers. And those running in the middle of the pack are pretty safe. Even at GE, we knew the value of “B performers” to be the “steady Stans” that maintained the inertia of the team. They just didn’t get their just rewards since the “A performers” were allowed “to eat from the trough” first.

I love the “middle of the pack” concept! These are the people that ring the bell on the normalized curve of work performance. Furthermore, they set the bar for work-life balance (sorry for the awful cliché.) They work hard, support the team, and still find time to be home with their families. Instead of “gold stars” they value what can be found by setting boundaries that act as guardrails to living a fulfilling life.

Surely businesses need strong leaders, including those who believe they have to fight the good fight for the team and suffer their own consequences. But the COVID Pandemic was a wake-up call for people around the globe. Maybe you do not have to be the last one to leave the office to be successful. Maybe someone in the “middle of the pack” can truly be successful! If you read THE GOAL (OK, I’m long in the tooth!) you have at least pondered slowing down a bit not only for the sake of others but for yourself as well.

So how about a hats off to the middle of the pack warriors! May they teach both the front and the back (of the pack) how to lead from within.