The biggest differentiator of companies that build high performance cultures is how they define leadership. On paper, the company might appear as any other – the CEO is the boss of the C-suite, the C-suite is the boss of their functions, and so on. However, in a high performance culture, empowerment, engagement and influence is how they work, regardless of structure. How do they create this environment?
It starts by redefining leadership.
In the “old” days, leadership was defined by title, position, size of organization, corner office, etc. Have you ever known someone who had all of these attributes and you wouldn’t even follow them to the restroom? In contrast, have you ever known someone who had no particular title yet you would have walked over a mountain for them, followed them to another company, done anything they needed? That’s high performance leadership.
Think of one of the BEST leaders you know. They most likely focus on:
- WHO they are being – humble, curious, open, receptive, bold, caring, real, approachable, etc. They are interested in others rather than focused on being interesting themselves.
- WHAT they are doing – they listen at least as much as they talk, they ask questions that help you think through things, and they ask for help. They share authentically, and you often feel like a partner versus a direct report.
- HOW they are feeling – they share their three-dimensional selves. They are relatable as humans. They connect with your head AND heart. They inspire you. They are responsible for their emotional well-being and don’t give you their sloppy seconds.
Their mindset reflects horizontal versus hierarchical leadership. They draw their power from building influence and strong relationships around them instead of relying on their position to get things done. Horizontal leaders know they can’t go it alone and they don’t have all the answers. They gracefully walk the tightrope between steering the organization towards a bold north star and not being fully attached to their own way.
They have grit. They are passionate, persistent and focused on possibility. They have a growth mindset (look at what they can learn and how they can grow) versus a fixed mindset (what is hard and what can’t be changed).
They build a cohesive team by creating an environment of psychological safety. Everyone feels they can practice Real Talk – being authentic, vulnerable and candid – because others practice real listening – being receptive, curious and open.
Are You a “Blocker”?
No one ever wants to be the one who isn’t getting on the bus. Most people genuinely want to get there and have a blind spot about showing up as “blockers” who resist change and slow down the organization.
The most common patterns of resistance we see are leaders who:
- Play the victim: They are powerless, not powerful. “This is happening to me” versus “I can become part of the solution by acknowledging reality, providing input, problem-solving and co-creating the future.”
- Don’t see themselves as leaders: They don’t see it as their role to build and cascade strategy, they see it as the leadership team’s role. They often complain about ambiguity, workload and pace. They blame, say “I can’t” or prefer to wait and hope instead of acknowledging that they are the leaders and have a responsibility to lead and say “I can”.
- Come with problems, not solutions: They complain about what is not working or what is impossible. They see the glass as half empty (fixed mindset).
- Go underground: They don’t voice complaints or questions in team meetings, and will stay quiet or will say they’re on board when they’re not. The most toxic version of this is when they “infect” others outside of team meetings to join them in looking at what is not possible versus what can be done.
- Focus on silo versus bigger game: They often measure success functionally versus taking an enterprise view. They often have a mindset of “our functional team was successful” instead of redefining the bigger team or organization.
- Stay in the weeds: They see their roles as delivering details versus balancing the strategic and operational. They check the box on delivering tasks and often ask their bosses what to do rather than questioning mindset, tasks and process (do we need to keep doing it like this even though we always have?)
- Engage as if they have no input or choice in how they work: They assume they have to say yes to everything. They are overwhelmed, burned out, resentful and unhappy. They don’t take responsibility for their own well-being and don’t bring their best selves forward. They say yes to their own detriment, and often have low reliability because they can’t consistently deliver on their agreements. They have poor boundaries and rarely make bold requests or say no.
Can you relate to any of the above? If you can, don’t fear. The good news is that no one expects everyone to get there by Monday. To be a high performing leader, it’s important to be coachable. Click here to find out how coachable you are.
Lead Your Leaders
If you want to lead from where you stand, here is where you can begin:
- Start with you: Always start with looking in your own mirror. Start with your own mindset – are you a horizontal leader with ownership and accountability or a hierarchical leader waiting for those above you to figure it out? Identify where you can take it up a notch by clarifying your commitments to elevate your personal leadership and well-being. Get coaching from others around you who can help you elevate your leadership. Don’t go it alone – everyone has opportunities!
- Engage your team: Set the table for safe, open conversations to talk about the future with your team. Use ground rules, such as real talk and real listening, about how to communicate on strategic topics. Clarify your intention – to share and listen. You might share a new strategy and ask your team what excites them and what questions or input they have. You might discuss current ways of working and ask for input about how we can be more collaborative, productive and efficient. Facilitating versus telling will always elicit engagement. If they don’t want to speak openly with you, then look hard at what you own about that (and go back up to #1 above).
- Coach and develop your team members: Remember, you are 100% responsible for the talent on your team. You are not only accountable for their performance, you also own their ability to free you up to focus strategically, their alignment with the overall strategy, and their ability to solve big problems. All of it. Take ownership for developing them through feedback, coaching, mentoring and ultimately, holding them accountable. Use your peers to help you with this – you don’t need to do this alone!
- Am I a blocker in any way? What is driving my behaviors? How willing am I to engage in productive behaviors? How coachable am I? What help do I need to shift?
- Where can I passionately and proactively engage, solve and lead? Where can I create my biggest contribution?
- How can I communicate, coach and cascade this leadership to my team? What peer/s can help me create and implement my strategy?
Please reach out to me and my team if you’d like to connect about how to apply these ideas, to help members on your team navigate these conversations, or to discuss the biggest current challenges you are facing today.
Wishing you good mental, physical, emotional and social health.
Remember to find resources to inspire you here.