When organizations’ employ dynamic, influential leaders, they thrive.
There are many companies that don’t have the right people in leadership roles and are aware of the problem. Others don’t realize their leadership team or members of the team are not effective, but they know that their business is experiencing challenges and constraints in achieving breakthrough performance. In either case, the result is the same – ineffectiveness in aligning people, strategy, and culture to break through the performance ceiling. High-performance organizations must be discerning in who they employ on their leadership teams. The first step in ensuring the right people are on the bus is defining high-performance leadership, and what to look for in the people leading the people in the organization.
Here we introduce the concept of high-performance leaders, teams, and organizations. We walk through the skills necessary for each, as well as the opportunities created for high-performance leaders. Our goal is to explain how a high-performance organizational culture benefits your organization in the long run.
What is High-Performance Leadership?
“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” – Steve Jobs.
We define high-performance leadership as executive leadership that takes business strategy and creates an environment that is both smart and healthy. A business strategy, in this sense, is characterized by knowing who the company is, what its purpose and mission are, and how that company makes decisions. Having all of this information together allows the company to present and leverage its unique value proposition.
Here is what we mean by smart and healthy:
Right people, right jobs, right results. Smart environments leverage their people, process, and technology to produce outstanding results. Hiring the right people with the right ability, aptitude and attitude is only the beginning. Unfortunately, many organizational leaders underutilize the talent they work so hard to bring in because they lack the knowledge and foresight to look at the business as a human system. Viewing the organization as a system made up of people allows leaders to optimize the contribution of the collective and get more done in less time and with less effort. Leveraging process and technology to advance the contributions of people at work is fundamental and standard in today’s competitive world. The ability to see the people, the work, and the overall system at play is a competitive advantage for today’s savvy business leader and is required to be smart. Effectively integrating people, strategy, and culture is the fabric of a performance catalyst culture.
Workplace culture is thriving! The majority of the people in the organization are dedicated to delivering on the mission and living the company’s core values. People are connected to the results they are required to produce to achieve organizational objectives and they feel empowered and fulfilled in the work they do. Healthy organizations are highly constructive and inspire employees at every level to work together effectively to share knowledge, innovate and achieve goals.
High-performance leadership is focused on setting the direction, communicating the vision, and then getting out of the way so employees can independently own their responsibilities and perform. High-performance leaders empower their employees and allow lead by example and partner from the side. These astute high performing leaders are great at coaching and guiding their teams to stay on track and overcome obstacles impeding success. This type of leadership brings out the best in the leader and the followers and is the exact opposite of micromanaging, which is constraining, corrosive, and destructive and has no place in a high-performance workplace culture.
What is a High-Performance Leader?
All too often, many managers exemplify leadership ideas that are essentially 1980s throwbacks. Many mature organizational leaders were taught the command and control leadership style; which has proven to be dysfunctional and ineffective in today’s world. This leadership style is about weaponized accountability, which has given accountability a bad rap in many companies. When ownership is not present there is little to no self-actualization available for employees.
Visionaries & Strategic Planners
Instead of command and control, we believe in high-performance leadership. High-performance leaders are visionaries and strategic planners: they envision an outcome and create a plan to produce results. They understand the human element of their workforce; each leader displays an empathetic outlook, has realistic expectations, and a compassionate attitude. Theirs is servant leadership, ready to be the boots on the ground and lead the charge for their employees. They are the leaders who can help cut through the 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts a day that we have: 85% of these thoughts are negative and repetitive! KeenAlignment believes that a high-performance leader is that person who can genuinely cut through all of that noise and realign employees to their highest purpose by regularly engaging them in their role in fulfilling the mission and vision of the organization.
Masters of Creating & Sharing the Mission
Creating and aligning the employees with the company’s mission and vision is extremely important to healthy organizations: it’s the high-performing leader that communicates and inspires this purpose in everyone. This person on your executive and management team truly compels all employees to embrace and personify the mission for the betterment of the company’s culture. A high-performance leader is a big picture thinker with the necessary empathetic connections to their people to inspire and engage.
These leaders are also highly accountable for their people and the products or services the company promises to deliver accountability for others is one of the most overlooked success metrics in organizations! The outmoded command and control leadership style has made it difficult for companies to steward effective accountability measures throughout, which has resulted in a disservice to the entire workplace. On the other hand, a high-performance leader is the guiding light for process, technology, and people optimization, which improves productivity, performance, and accountability across the organization. A high-performance leader sets the stage for every person on their team everyone in the organization is attuned with their role and the outcomes the role must deliver and is fully supported to deliver outstanding results.
What are the Skills and Characteristics of a High Performance Leader?
The truth is, not every person is a high-performance leader. There are some innate traits that are necessary for a leader to be high performance; while these are intrinsic in the best of breed leaders, a few of these traits or skills can be trained, although that takes time. A hallmark of high-performance leadership is continual improvement. This begins with self-awareness and self-management. Self-awareness is about being awake and aware of personal leadership strengths and gaps, and how those traits impact others. While this list is by no means a comprehensive list, below are high-level leadership competencies and values that high-performance leaders must regularly demonstrate.
High-performance leaders envision a future and conceptualize how to execute that vision into reality. Being a visionary means being well versed in the industry and aware of developments across that industry and ison top of the business landscape. Visionaries are forward-looking and quality-conscious.
This leadership quality is different from visionary because it focuses on the people element in the organization Inspiring others through personal relationships, connecting people to their purpose and the work at hand, giving generous relevant praise, offering tangible and intangible, rewards and incentives.
A high-performance leader produces outcomes aligned with the company’s mission and values. Their intrinsic motivation and passion for results make them highly accountable for the delivery of projects, programs, and products.
Coaches select the right people for the right job and support them. They tap into their people’s best self and optimize team members’ highest level of performance. A great coach develops employees to improve and get to the next level. Coaches are focused on employee growth and development.
Leaders who are clear on what needs to get accomplished and who on the team has the capability and capacity to get the work done are leaders with the practical and tactical skills required to turn ideas into results. Tacticians are detailed planners who take the whole picture into consideration a highly skilled Tactician is rarely caught off guard by the unexpected, they come with backup plans and plan for the worst. These highly competent leaders optimize people, process,es and technology to get more done with less effort and struggle.
This leadership quality is about unlocking the innovation and strategic thinking within the organization. Leaning into next generation solutions, process improvement, continual improvement are hallmarks of the trendsetter.
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What are the Skills and Characteristics of High-Performance Teams?
“High-performing teams use deliberate intention to align personal and organizational values.”
– Brant Menswar
Listed above are the behavioral traits and values necessary for high-performance leadership, yet how do these characteristics translate to whole teams? The four essential elements of high-performing teams are accountability, human awareness, flexibility, and self-development.
Accountability is imperative to a leader of a high-performance team When a person is accountable for themselves, they are more likely to produce good work. Teams that are working towards an overarching goal are simply more productive. When hard-working teams are focused on tasks, while work gets done, it does not get done in synergy with one another, and therefore it is harder to get work done and productivity suffers. Healthy teams are ones where accountability is shared among them as a group. These teams should avoid using perceived accountability against individual members, as this creates drama and unworkability in the workplace.
High-performance teams understand and respect each other. The people on the team take the time to understand each other. They know what is important to their teammates and what each person’s role on the team is. These high-performance teams are also responsive to the environment and always stay flexible. How this looks across industries, but the most critical point is that for this to work in teams, members must pivot effectively. Although the high-performance leader is the visionary and directs strategy, and execution, the high-performance teams are continually creating and maintaining necessary feedback loops. This loop involves all stakeholders and is supportive.
Self-development in teams is all about self-awareness and self-esteem, both as an individual member and as part of the team. Members who are aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses are more functional and able to lend a hand. This creates an environment where individuals feel comfortable and vulnerable to ask for help and further develop their skills.
What Defines a High-Performance Organization?
First, let’s examine what a high-performance organization is not.
A High-Performance Organization is NOT...
Companies that foster perfectionistic, competitive, and opposition tendencies in team members unintentionally shape and create dysfunctional and destructive organizational culture. These tendencies make for an environment of aggression and defensiveness. In these environments, certain people power up over others and take control of producing outcomes; however, in the process, the less aggressive employees often become passive and complacent and wind up conforming to the more aggressive personality types or avoiding the wrath by staying under the radar. This creates a mass divide of buy-in, behavioral, and performance. These organizations are breeding grounds for unhealthy competition: different departments end up fighting with each other rather than working together. Ineffective managers use command and control tactics, which leads to high turnover and unhappy workers.
But a High-Performance Organization IS..
High-performance organizations encompass all of the most important traits of a high-performance leader and team, on a global scale.
High-performance organizations are results-driven and achieve results. That is the purpose of being in business: to sell a product or service. The “why we do this” is different between companies, but an organization that fully embraces high-performance attributes is successful. When executive leadership creates a vision and mission, as well as a pathway to achieve both, this is what a result-driven organization is all about.
High-performance organizations are also humanistic. When people are at the center of why a company succeeds: the culture thrives. Happy and healthy employees are productive employees. They have more buy-in to the mission, values, and vision and seek out ways to contribute to the betterment of the organization. Organizations that genuinely care about their people do the work needed to understand their people and what inspires them as well as what constrains performance.
Affiliation is a key to high-performance organizations. In these organizations, team members are encouraged to work together in service of accomplishing best in breed results. People optimize each others’ strengths, leverage the power of the collective and work constructively together.
Self-actualization is key to high-performing organizational cultures. In these organizations, people are connected to their highest level purpose and they know and understand how their role contributes to the big picture.
A KeenAlignment Success Story
New CEO** came into a once profitable retail organization that was in chaos. When the founding CEO decided to retire, the board brought in a brand new President that looked wonderful on paper. They “hired a resume” instead of basing their decision on high-performance leadership principles. This President created so much havoc that people, good people who had been with the company for decades were up in arms.: The new president used force and power to gain control. He did not engage or inspire and alignment was not in his vocabulary. He was all about command and control leadership, creating silos (which ultimately led to a mutiny), and making immediate changes for the sake of change; these actions are always detrimental to an organization. He was fired, and the founding CEO had to come out of retirement. They hired KeenAlignment to assist them in creating a vision and values statement for their leadership and organization. We also helped them hire New CEO, who worked one-on-one with our executive coaches to refine and elevate his leadership vision and properly onboard him to his new position. The New CEO has lead the organization to the most profitable year ever, navigated through the pandemic, elevated the performance and impact of the executive team, empowered the next level directors to own and initiate improvement, and spotlighted hidden talent throughout the organization including launching a 6/5 month immersive women’s leadership program. The right values and mission has shaped this organization’s culture, enabling them to hire a President capable of leading 1200 people to the future.
** Name changed for confidentiality purposes
What are the Opportunities Created Through High-Performance Leadership?
“You can’t give up your passion if things don’t work right away. You can’t lose heart, or grow cynical if there are twists and turns on your journey. The cynics may be the loudest voices — but I promise you, they will accomplish the least. It’s those folks who stay at it, those who do the long, hard, committed work of change that gradually push this country in the right direction, and make the most lasting difference.” – Former President Barack Obama, Ohio State Commencement Speech 2013
There are so many opportunities that high-performance leadership creates for both individuals and entire workplaces. Here are three opportunities for an individual leader and three opportunities for the workplace as a whole.
Leaders who are self-aware and utilize their strengths to the best of their ability are the ones who positively impact and shape their company culture. Leaders who also recognize and manage employees who need more guidance also benefit from better emotional intelligence that comes with high-performance leadership. Behavioral insights in action are often the key to internal promotions and recognition from upper management.
Improved and increased Responsibility
High-performance leaders are naturally inclined to take on more responsibility and take full ownership of the work they take on. Leaders who distinguish themselves as response-able people are the people most likely to receive promotions, increased pay, and more responsibility. When Promotions or increases in areas of influence happen when executive management sees responsibility in action from the people on the team. When management experiences that they do not need to watch over programs and projects to make sure work is completed correctly and on time, they are freed up to do bigger more strategic work.
Leaders who demonstrate initiative, drive, and improved performance take advantage of more development opportunities. These can be in the form of further training, conferences, coaching, and more.
Improved Company Wellness
Your employees will thank you! Chronic stress and dissatisfaction are some of the main reasons that employees leave their jobs. A main cause is because of unskilled managers, disconnected executives, and dysfunctional organizational culture. Introducing high-performance leaders and a more vision-based company improves the mental, physical, and operational health of your workplace.
A high-performance team is a functional and healthy team that works together in synergy to get great work completed. The reason most team-building exercises fail is the root cause of team dysfunction is not identified or dealt with. Many dysfunctional workplaces impose team building, which ends up just irritating their employees and management when nothing good comes from endless icebreakers and activities. Good and even great teams that proactively intervene and remove constraints to high performance are the teams who elevate their performance and earn the benefits of team building
A high-performance team is made of the best and the brightest your company has to offer. These teams produce stellar results for the organization because they are motivated and vision-aligned. Empowered managers and teams are more productive overall with their time and routinely achieve goals. Most high-performing people want to be part of a team like this!
A KeenAlignment Success Story
We exhibit some of these opportunities through one of our most recent success stories:
Labor Relations Manager** had over five years of experience in her position. She thought her job was to make sure that her company “stayed out of control.” Her goal was to be on top of risk mitigation at all times and represent what we think of as the “Perfectionist.” She lacked self-awareness, causing many strained personal relationships and trust issues at her workplace. Her tendencies prevented her from making authentic connections with her coworkers and management. Through one-on-one coaching with one of our executive coaches, Labor Relations Manager underwent a transformational year. She learned that her coworkers didn’t trust her; they assumed they would get fired if she came to talk to them! Although common with HR positions, she knew she needed to make a change. During her year, she chose to work in every job in her company, learning about the business of her business – she realized that she didn’t understand the people who did the work. This process allowed her to develop her empathy and drastically improve her effectiveness as a leader. Labor Relations Manager has since been promoted three times since working with KeenAlignment!
** Name changed for confidentiality purposes
Issues You May Be Facing if You’re Not Experiencing a High-Performance Culture.
“Be spectacularly great at what you do. Wear your passion on your sleeve and hold your heart in the palm of your hand. And work hard. Really hard.”
– Robin Sharma
Transitioning to a high-performance leadership structure or furthering a particular leader’s skills in your organization is not always easy. It takes significant time and effort from all levels, from the CEO down. When this transition starts to take shape, there are several pain points that an organization must recognize and deal with. These pain points are the major problems that, although your organization surely has its own unique issues, almost all companies experience at one time or another.
Our of Control Costs
One of the most straightforward issues to look out for is escalating labor costs. Often organizations solve problems by throwing people at it, when the challenge may be better solved through process and technology. Although human capital investment is fundamental to business operations when people are not utilized at their highest level of effectiveness, the cost goes up and bottom-line performance profit goes down.
Lack of Employee Engagement
This issue is a major organizational constraint for most companies. Employee engagement is vital to a functioning workplace and is especially important if a high-performance organizational culture is the goal. Leadership and management effectiveness is a core tenant of culture. Leadership must be present and aware of what is happening in the collective. Are people inspired by their work? Are they connected to the big picture? Do they own the work they are assigned to and are the deliverable something the leader is proud of? Do teams work well in synergy to accomplish goals with little or no management intervention? If this is not the case, changes must be made.
As we have demonstrated, not all managers are made equal. If your managerial team already has underlying conflicts the break-in alignment impacts the whole human system, their whole organization.Managers who don’t operate with a high-performance mindset necessary to take your company to the next level, quite often resist essential changes. The upside to this issue is that once managers are aware of their negative impact on the team, they have a choice to change for the better, those that chose to not get better may help the organization best by leaving.
Replacing employees and managers comes at a cost, though: hire time, ramp-up time, training time, it all equates to money. However, the cost of holding on to the wrong person is 4 times the cost of dealing with the turnover in a timely manner. Managers who cannot cope with a changing environment and do not commit to your high-performance culture need to leave. At the same time, employees who cannot adjust to higher standards from their managers also need to improve or choose to leave and eventually get replaced. There are also certain employees who enjoy the dysfunction and lack of accountability, and they very well may not be happy with the changes, these employees need to get on board or need to leave.
Lack of Innovation
Companies and organizations are epicenters of innovation in high-performance cultures and workplaces! This starts with management, and any glaring problems with innovation become more apparent as your organization grows. Lacking innovation and continual improvement in your vision, people, process and technology are the reasons that companies fail.
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KeenAlignment Enables High-Performance Culture
Cultivating high-performance leaders is what KeenAlignment does best! We partner with companies to identify and educate those leaders who have what it takes to up-level, refresh, or completely transform your organizational culture for the better. Our methods are experiential, not just theoretical. Our Organizational performance breakthrough programs exponentially move your company forward. Our customers receive a 10x return on investment through our well-planned, efficiently executed, experiential leadership development, strategic people, and cultural alignment breakthrough work.
Science-based Leadership assessments are at the heart of our work.. Often people step into leadership roles with little or no training. Often, they are unclear about how to leverage and exploit their leadership superpowers and foggy or in denial about their leadership gaps. Our comprehensive leadership assessments give insight and coaching to leaders so they can maximize their effectiveness and achieve high-performance leadership. We do this for entire leadership teams and it is the first step to breakthrough performance as it all begins with self and team awareness. Our work enables your team to identify gaps in leadership competencies and behaviors on your teams, inventory current strengths, and implement actionable leadership development goals to get your management exactly where they need to be.
Executive coaching is vital to our approach. All of our success stories include a targeted performance coaching element because those identified as leaders with potential need that support and guidance to achieve high performance. Our program is year-long, focusing on one to three improvements that a leader needs, to grow into a higher performance leader of people and culture. We believe that it’s impossible to change five or more traits in a year, and too much focus on changing everything has adverse impacts on the leader, the team, and the work. Our process targets your leader’s unique skills, career objectives, and goals, and integrates these with the organizational goals to build feedback loops and training modules that produce bottom-line results.
Our 21st Leadership Development program includes assessments, training, and team coaching that empowers and creates high-performance leaders and performance catalyst cultures. Topics include goal achievement, emotional intelligence, accountability for others, communication intelligence, neuroplasticity, and inspiring others. These core competencies are examined each month with your leadership team and broken down into experiential lessons and goals with tools that help the leaders in your organization thrive.
Is your company ready to implement a high-performance strategy for your leaders, teams, or the entire company? Give us a call today to get started with a leadership assessment!
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