Tips for Identifying and Assisting an “Underdog”

Underdog – competitor thought to have little chance of winning a fight or contest.

In sports, people love rooting for the “underdog”. We feel compelled to cheer for such a team, especially in situations where no one expects them to win. In essence, we feel sorry for the predicament they are in and hope our support can “will them” to victory.

In the corporate world employees all around us can be considered “underdogs”. These individuals are much more difficult to identify than a sports team not favored to win. Employees don’t have a “win-loss” total, Las Vegas betting line or straightforward statistics that we can use to compare them against peers or others within the same organization. This makes the job of leaders that much more difficult.

What steps can you take to 1) identify and 2) assist these underdogs?


Identifying Underdogs

There are individuals on every team that have skills and experience necessary to excel in their jobs. “Underdogs” are those who have the capabilities to excel, as well as the ambition to do more, but have not been given the opportunity to take the next step in their career. For one reason or another, underdogs often get overlooked, passed over or discredited.

As a leader, it’s important for you to have conversations with each of your employees on a regular basis to a) get to know them, b) uncover their professional goals and ambitions and c) collaborate with them to build a custom development plan. This development plan should serve as the foundation of your employee’s personal and professional growth. It should include specific goals and objectives with target dates of completion, along with targeted activities and opportunities (and resources).


Assisting Underdogs

 Find ways to be a voice for underdogs you have identified, both on your team and within the organization. Know when to lead, coach and manage these individuals. Identify stretch goals and opportunities that allow underdogs to grow their skills and get them closer to making their ambitions a reality.

Other proven methods to aid underdogs you come into contact with include:

  • Mentoring
  • Job Swapping
  • Formal Development (Training, participation in a Development Program)
  • Continuing Education


Action Plan: Identifying and Assisting Underdogs

 Some suggested steps for identifying and aiding your underdogs include:

  1. Conduct an informal talent review of your team; this will allow you to determine who needs to be “stretched” to get to the next level more quickly
  2. Have 1-on-1 discussions with your team to uncover goals and aspirations and set expectations for getting there
  3. Collaborate to write a development plan with SMART goals; constantly revisit and update this plan
  4. Determine what resources are needed to support development
  5. Gain buy-in on deliverables of the development plan; if employees are not engaged, they will not take responsibility


Pay it forward. Start making a difference today in someone’s career!

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