Rainbow-Colored Unicorns – Part 2

Rainbow-Colored Unicorns – Part 2

Rainbow-colored unicorns are high-performing leaders who often find that a mismatch exists between their expectations and their people’s performance. These unique creatures struggle daily with how to reconcile their beliefs and experiences with the reality they’re confronted with. In Part 1 of this two-part series, you’ll learn about a few reasons why rainbow-colored unicorns encounter this challenge.

In this article, I share five suggested actions for how to help bridge the gulf between you and your people, reconcile your drive with the reality “on the street,” and leverage your unique abilities to propel your team and organization to even greater success. Keep in mind that this isn’t a comprehensive list but rather a starting point.

Five Tips to Bridge the Gap Between Your Expectations and Your Team’s Performance


  1. Embrace your exceptionalism with humility.

High performers often fall into two categories:

  • Bashful
  • Bold

The Bashful downplay their abilities because they don’t want to appear arrogant. The Bold make no excuses for what they are and are uncompromising in expecting the same performance from others.

Fortunately, a third—more effective—path exists: Governorship. Governors are proud of their abilities, yet humble in how they present themselves. This approach involves acknowledging the debt that you owe others—both past and present—and embarking on each new challenge with the mind of a beginner.

  1. Recognize the limitations of self-motivation.

During a discussion I had facilitated for business owners about talent development, the expert speaking on the topic suggested that leaders must truly get to know their direct reports to understand their individual motivations. Upon hearing that advice, one attendee remarked, “That just sounds exhausting.” This is a perfect example of a high performer failing to recognize that team members don’t naturally have high levels of self-motivation for the work of their organization.

Understanding individuals’ motivations and creating a culture that strives to channel those motivations are the only ways to engender higher levels of self-motivation among your staff.

  1. Clarify goals and objectives with laser-like precision.

Too many organizations fail to recognize the vast gulf between where leadership is steering the boat and where its crew believes it is sailing. This is not only a communication issue but also one of impaired clarity. Not everyone can see the larger picture and understand the organization’s strategy (assuming a strategy exists).

Unless you’re dealing with something highly confidential like a merger or developing the cure for cancer in one of your labs, you need to be more transparent and open about where your organization is heading. In the absence of crystal clear, unrelenting objectives, your people will populate the void with their own theories, and your ship will drift. It’s your job to recognize when this gulf exists and proactively set everyone on the same course.

  1. Be a true mentor.

Too often, high performers don’t take time to show others the way. Showing the way doesn’t mean crafting a 72-page process manual and dumping it on someone’s desk or identifying strengths and weaknesses in an annual review.

It means:

  • Providing opportunities for people to grow through failure.
  • Offering real-time feedback and perspective so that individuals might learn something about themselves.
  • Giving your direct reports your undivided attention and marrying your experience to theirs so that they might evolve to become more than they currently are.
  1. Become more empathetic.

The United States is still grappling with the legacy of industrialization, which, for this discussion, means understanding that people are not interchangeable parts.

People say that they understand this concept, but what is the first thing we do to fill a vacant position? We don’t ask what type of person is best suited for the job. Instead, we ask what skills, education, and experience do we need to fill the role. This mindset implies that individuals and their personalities are secondary.

Further developing your empathy will allow you to better engage with people and subtly influence your organization’s culture and expectations through leveraging each individual’s strengths.

“Sometimes we all need a unicorn to believe in. Sometimes we need a unicorn to believe in us.” ― Claudia Bakker

In addition to the five suggestions I’ve shared here, other ways also exist for how you might conquer the divide between your expectations and the performance of your team. What have you done or seen done that has produced positive results? Share your thoughts in the comments section so that we can all learn from your experience!

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