What differentiates an average leader from a high-performance leader? The difference lies in the caliber of their team members.
A high-performance leader does not slough through, going through the motions leading average performers for average results. Leaders possess a drive that takes their team from moderation and mediocrity to consistent unsurpassed results.
Whether it’s a sports coach like Yogi Berra or Joe Torre, or a Navy SEAL Captain, or the CEO of a unicorn startup, high-performance leadership doesn’t come easy. Additionally, most high-performance leaders don’t initially start out with an elite team. They take a team which may be showing mediocre results and the leader raises the team’s potential to achieve higher success levels.
The process of creating and nurturing an elite team is one of constant reflection, deep self-awareness, and a relentless pursuit of personal and professional development.
Here are four tips on how the best leaders can turn a team that’s showing mediocre results into an elite team of high performers.
Enable a Learning Culture
Teams grow beyond mediocre to become elite through continual learning. When a leader promotes a learning culture, their teams tend to:
- Adapt to change easily.
- Be proactive.
- Be more responsive.
- Be loyal.
- Be highly effective.
- Be highly motivated
A learning culture means your team lives by a set of attitudes, practices, and values which support and promote the acquisition of new skills and knowledge.
Training, newcomer onboarding, refresher courses, seminars, and role-playing simulations are all part of the learning process of elite teams. Through training, team members re-interpret their environment and how they relate to it.
For elite teams, the training tend to be intense, frequent, and designed to challenge the teams existing attitudes and ways of doing things.
Leadership that develops team learning cultures:
- Encourage personal mastery.
- Influence mental models.
- Build a shared vision.
- Transform collective thinking.
- Develop ‘big picture’ thinking.
Encourage Feedback Loops
A feedback loop is a system where the feedback from one phase of a process informs the direction of the next phase. Feedback helps your team members and leaders track performance, ensure standards are met, communicate objectives, and explore avenues for improvement. There are both positive and negative feedback loops.
Positive feedback loops work to enforce positive habits, increase recurrence of positive actions, and improve quality. For instance, when the leader praises the good performance of a team member, it sets a quality bar. The team member is likely to be motivated to improve on those results or at least maintain the same standards of high performance.
Negative feedback loops work to point out negative aspects and find ways to improve on them. A negative feedback loop can be beneficial in changing inappropriate attitudes, decreasing efficiency, and defeating negative influences.
While negative feedback loops are effective at correcting bad behaviors, the use of more positive feedback loops is more likely to create a motivated team. Feedback loops are not strictly vertical communications from team leader to members. Rather, feedback loops should be both vertical and horizontal.
High-performance leaders build feedback loops where member comments and opinions are treated with respect and are free of adverse repercussions, even when criticism is directed at the leader.
Inexperienced leaders might gravitate towards recruiting team members with similar backgrounds as a way to forge a single-minded purpose. However, most high-performance leaders find that diversity drives better results compared to uniformity.
Nowadays, when someone mentions diversity, most people think it refers specifically to race, ethnicity, and gender. Though these aspects are important, leaders should have a more holistic approach to building and nurturing an eclectic team. Diversity can be found in:
- Personality types- a healthy mix of introverts and extroverts.
- Different skill sets- no one is good at everything. Everyone has their strengths.
- Different experiences- members share best practices, alternative ideas.
- Complementary work styles- detail-oriented mix with big-picture thinkers.
- Individual positions- leaders, liaisons, facilitators, coordinators, etc.
Team diversity adds strength, but it’s the team leader’s duty to create an environment of collaboration, compatibility, and single-minded purpose.
Every team member at one point contemplates whether the team’s core values, vision, and strategies align with their own.
High-performance leaders create an environment where team members truly buy into and live up to the team’s tenets.
Where members feel they are at odds with the team’s values, some may choose to quit. However, in many cases, non-aligned members will opt to stay on as they look around for better opportunities. A chain being only as strong as its weakest link, these non-committed members will represent the weak link which sinks your team into mediocrity.
As a leader, you can use the following tips to help team members feel aligned to, and claim ownership of, the team’s mission.
- Share the group’s vision – help team members realize they are part of something bigger than the individual.
- Express your passion – let your team share your excitement about the team’s vision.
- Clarify the why – Give context to each task as part of the bigger picture.
- Delegate authority – Allow team members to take up leadership roles.
- Demand accountability – Leaders and team members take responsibility for their work.
- Plan activities as a team – ask members to make suggestions.
- Involve members in goal setting – Encourage them to share ideas, insights, and knowledge.
To grow your team out from mediocrity to elite status, start by recruiting deliberately. The path to high performance requires constant improvement. As such, enable and encourage a learning culture among your members.
Make it easy for members to receive and provide open and honest feedback without fear of victimization. Encourage diversity of thought, knowledge, and skills to craft a team that has the capacity to handle different types of problems in creative ways. Let your team members take pride in and claim ownership of the team’s vision, responsibilities, and successes.
Fix your crown, rule the day!