What it takes to be a high performance leader

June 13, 2019

“Your role as the leader is to lead, not do.”

Sound familiar?

We slap the title ‘leader’ on people fairly indiscriminately.

As you get promoted up the ranks, or your business grows, your responsibilities grow as does the responsibility to be seen and act as a leader in the business.

The point here is that being a leader is a full time gig. The irony is that as your functional responsibilities grow, you need to do less of the doing and more of the ‘leadership stuff’ and that takes a whole heap of work – and time. And therein lies the rub – you can’t keep doing all the ‘tasks’. It just isn’t possible. My low point as a leader of a big team was when I realised that I was “too busy” to make time for my team. I’m not talking about the structured team meetings, I’m talking about the fact that I was never there for an impromptu chat, a half hour brainstorming session or a bit of reassurance. My dance card was so full with every other 'essential' meeting, that I simply wasn’t present. Unsurprisingly, I was also exhausted, stressed and grumpy.

This is a huge challenge for most businesses. Because one person alone can’t change this culture – and this is what we are talking about here. A culture where no-one delegates, where senior ‘titles’ have to be present at everything and sign off on everything, elastic ended days and  20 ‘priorities’ all add up to a lack of business performance, effectiveness and a tired and disengaged workforce.

Ask yourself:

  • Are members of your team feeling or looking exhausted?
  • Is there a level of stress in the room?
  • Do your team members look like they are in control? or on the edge?
  • Is there a sense of enjoyment and fun, or just one of pressure?

So what can you do here? Well as the leader, you can start by honestly assessing the ‘health’ of your team – I’m talking mental, physical and let’s call it ‘time health’. If you can’t honestly say that you are all performing at an optimal level, then here are some things to consider:

  1. You need to be very clear on what your role is and what your role isn’t.
  2. Are you making time to listen to what your team members telling you?
  3. Do you have more than 3 or 4 key priorities that you are working on?
  4. How available are you to your team? Do you have at least 50% of your time unstructured so you can be available?


The role of a leader is to:

  1. Articulate the vision in a way that compels others to buy-in
  2. Create an environment and culture that fosters success
  3. Build and support a powerhouse or high performing team
  4. Repeat

How much time are you spending doing all of these things?

Each of these areas are huge in their own right. Let's break it down:

1. Creating a compelling vision is all about giving people context as to why they are doing this stuff – particularly if you are looking at transformational change programmes. Then you need to communicate this relentlessly. Lack of clear vision and alignment of the culture and mission is one of the biggest reasons why change programmes fail. Never underestimate how many times someone needs to hear the same message.

2. An environment that fosters success means looking at all the roadblocks in the way of your team – and removing them. If your team is working in an environment that constantly undermines them, then they will end up exhausted and discouraged. Think competing priorities, too many meetings, lack of clarity around roles, and not enough positive reinforcement and celebrations along the way;

3. The need to build and foster a strong team is self-evident. Without the right team, you don’t have the right skills and knowledge to figure out how to get things done, and then execute. On paper, every employer sets out to create a talented team that knows what they are here to do, and is set up for success. So why, in reality, does it so often go so wrong? One reason is that not enough time and attention is spent on the team itself. Getting the right people on board is just one aspect. Making sure that they are operating effectively, feel supported and have the environment to operate at their best is another.

Consider this. How much time you are spending on creating an environment for success? In a business context, environment can mean many things. Think here about the demands you are placing on your team, the number of competing priorities there are, how realistic resource levels are; and whether the overall environment and culture is a positive one. Also consider how much time you spend investing in not just team development but team energy. This speaks to environment, celebrating the wins, de-prioritising the long list of ‘everything needs to be done, and now’ and really listening to what your team is telling you. If you have spent the time to recruit talented individuals and create a strong team, then you need to take on board what they are telling you in times of success and times of stress.


In summary:

  • Look to the role you are playing. Before you can do this for your team, you need to do this for yourself.
  • Consider what environment you need to operate at your best. How many competing priorities are you contending with? Are you ‘too busy to lead’?
  • Re-define your role as a leader – it isn’t about the doing. If you have recruited the right people, then now is the time to delegate, reshape roles and most importantly, de-prioritise.


Leadership roles aren’t for everyone.

The first step is working out whether this is the role you want.

Whether it is or isn’t doesn’t matter – taking the time to define the role you want to play is the really important decision.

And the key to your success.


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