How to Lead a High Performing Team

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Traditionally, people were promoted into leadership positions because they were viewed as a top individual contributor, a type-A extrovert, and/or a supremely confident professional. This results from what’s called a “promote to retain” strategy implemented by many organizations. 

While retaining top talent is vitally important, it’s also critical for organizations to promote people into positions of leadership that can drive performance and make a positive impact on the people they get the opportunity to lead.

There is one predictor of leaders like this regardless if they were a top individual contributor or not, and it’s not where organizations have previously focused. Leaders who have a servant’s heart sustain positive business results and achieve high employee engagement scores.  

After studying so many leaders with a servant’s heart in all different industries, roles, and backgrounds, it turns out they are doing many things right to have a high performing team. It’s what I refer to as “The Great 8 to Lead Your Best.” These are a list of things which by themselves are important, but they tend to compound and build upon each other. Here they are with a brief description of each to help you leverage them with your team as well.

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Leadership Methodology

Over the last 30 years, methodologies have skyrocketed in popularity because they provide a backbone and structure to do any difficult job. From sales to research to project management and now leadership.  

Many of the best modern leaders we have studied either knowingly or unknowingly use a servant leadership methodology and use high levels of love and discipline in the way they lead. Robert Greenleaf said it well, “Servant leadership always empathizes, always accepts the person, but sometimes refuses to accept some of the person’s effort or performance as good enough.”

Relationships

The key to leadership is relationships because, without strong relationships, you can’t lead. High performing teams have bonds of mutual trust and respect. Where most leaders struggle is in understanding their responsibility to earn those two things. Long gone are the days of a title commanding respect. In today’s workplaces, a title should only be a reminder of your responsibility to your people.

While this seems obvious, many leaders skip relationship building and jump right into accountability to drive performance. This is a massive mistake because 

Rules without relationships lead to rebellion. 

Instead of assuming the relationships with your team members are strong, make time with each team member to ask this powerful question: “How are you and your family coping during the pandemic?”

Communication

Effective communication is at the heart of effective leadership. James Humes famously said, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” Leaders of high-performing teams not only leverage the proper amount of communication but also are clear, concise, and conclusive. 

Effective leaders are great communicators.

The best modern leaders are constantly looking to improve how they communicate by evaluating their verbal, written, and body language.  

Shared Purpose

People in organizations don’t get burned out because of their work; they get burned out because they forget WHY they do the work they do. Because of this, leaders of high-performing teams are constantly reminding their teams of the deeper purpose behind the work they do.  

One of the biggest mistakes managers make is believing it’s not their job to connect their team to a deeper purpose. Don’t fall into poor thinking. Embrace the responsibility that you are the connector of cause.  

Standards

For teams to keep getting better, leaders must raise the bar of what’s expected. The reason is that team members’ behaviors and habits are always going to default to the bar set. The best modern leaders embrace this by relying on standards. 

A standard is defined as “what good looks like.” If you want to leverage standards, don’t define what good looks like, but to go beyond that and define what great looks like.

Be crystal clear, concise, and focused. Limit yourself to as few standards as possible so they can be remembered and applied.

Execution

The teams that execute their strategy and plans to near perfection will always achieve more than teams who do not. George Patton famously said, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” As right as Patton is, it’s the leaders on a team who are responsible for removing barriers and putting people in the right positions to execute to the best of their abilities.  

Accountability 

Accountability is one of these words that has been hijacked. I define it in Building the Best as; the obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them and disclose the results in a transparent manner. 

It is the obligation of leaders to account for their actions and the actions of their people.  

Leaders are obligated to care for all their people equally and to serve their hearts, not their talents. 

 If you want to model how the best modern leaders leverage accountability, get comfortable with having difficult dialogues, which I wrote about here.

Coaching

One way a leader separates themselves from being a manager in today’s modern business environment is by coaching their people. A coach, by definition, is one who trains and instructs. The late great John Whitmore took the formal definition even further, saying:

“Coaching is unlocking people’s potential and helping them learn rather than teaching them.”

Leaders who coach have never been more critical than they are today. A strong, dedicated leader plays an integral role in elevating people to new heights, exactly how John Whitmore envisioned it.  

Closing

Every leader began somewhere. Regardless of whether you were promoted to a leadership position because of a “promote and retain strategy” or for some other reason, now is the time to embrace responsibility and develop servant’s heart. Once these are in place, work hard to understand, master, and apply “The Great 8 to Lead Your Best” on an ongoing basis.

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

5 Ways Great Leaders Create High Performing Teams

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out some professional teams are higher performing than others. Not only do high-performing teams contribute to better business outcomes, but their team members embrace the daily challenge to solve problems and achieve things together.

A team, by definition, is a group of individuals working together to achieve a goal. While the definition is simple, almost everyone has been a part of a group of individuals who weren’t working to achieve a collective goal.  

There have been many incredible studies about what makes a team successful. Including Google’s two year study that found there were five characteristics of enhanced teams, with the most important being psychological safety. While psychological safety is important, there is another common thread of all high performing teams, and it consists of two words: great leadership. 

Teams without great leadership might have periods of success, but it’s literally impossible to sustain that success without great leadership. Here are five things leaders do to help make their teams more successful:

They know they aren’t the only leader on the team.

Conventional wisdom would say the person at the top of the proverbial food chain is the only leader, but that would be wrong. In order for any team to reach heights they never thought possible, it needs leaders at every level whose behavior reflects what it means to be a leader. 

While this can be difficult to institutionalize, it starts with changing your mindset that you, in fact, aren’t the only leader. Once your heart and mind are in the right place, you have to teach others what it means to be a leader and why it’s so important they lead right where they are. 

They have quality and productive meetings.

A recent estimate suggests that employees endure a staggering 55 million meetings a day in the United States. This tremendous time investment typically yields only modest returns. In a recent interview on the Follow My Lead Podcast, Steven Rogelberg, author of the new book The Surprising Science of Meetings said, “In many ways, meetings are the building blocks and core elements of our organizations. They are the venues where the organization comes to life for employees, teams, and leaders.”

You can have quality and productive meetings by narrowing your focus on the purpose of each meeting and making sure each person attending is included in the discussion. While this can be difficult, there might be nothing more important in your business than having meetings that matter.

They focus on elevating others.

After interviewing hundreds of leaders and completing over 35,000 assessments of organizational leaders, I have come to define leadership this way:

Someone whose actions inspire, empower, and serve in order to elevate others over an extended period of time.

There are two key words here; elevate others.

If you want your team to come together and achieve a goal, it requires you focus on elevating others on a daily basis. You cannot take a hands-off approach to leadership, but instead must be involved by challenging and coaching people to elevate their performance.  

They lean into the journey.

Leading a team today is more difficult than ever because of the constant pressure from the outside to create positive results immediately. While the best leaders absolutely care about the results, they lean into the journey instead of the results. Gary Vaynerchuk who preaches the importance of this all the time said during a recent interview, “if you don’t love the process of what you’re up to, you already lost.”

Gary is right. Get your team to buy into the journey and embrace the process. The only way to do this is to celebrate the day to day work ethic and behavior rather than just the outcomes.

They create a culture of accountability.

In many ways, the hardest element of leadership is being a leader of consequence and holding people accountable. Accountability is one of these words that has been used to the point that its meaning has been a bit lost. The actual definition of accountability is, “The obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them, and to disclose the results in a transparent manner.”

The best leaders don’t look at accountability as optional. You can make accountability an obligation by giving praise to your people when standards are exceeded, acknowledging people when standards are met, and giving direct feedback if your people fall short of those standards.  

A Version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com

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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company which exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. He is also the author the upcoming book “Elevate Others: The New Model to Successfully Lead Today.” You follow him on instagram @johngeades.