What Makes a High-Performance Leader?

Guest post from Rob

is a high-performance leader?” a leader asked me in a Facebook Live session.
One of 
the many I have done since Covid-19 as we pivot to new ways of working.

A high-performance leader is one who is
intentional about their leadership. They are not a leader because their
position entitles them to be; they see leadership as a verb, a skill to
continue to develop and hone. High-performance leaders operate with a growth mindset
and are great communicators. A growth mindset means they operate with:

1. Agility

2. Curiosity

3. Persistence

From my research and experience I have
observed high-performance leaders look to instill these traits in their people
as well. The reason they do this is high-performance leaders understand that
their number one goal is to create more high-performance leaders so they can
move up to their next position and create more value. They operate with an
abundant, as opposed to a scarcity, mindset.

“Titled Leaders” operate from a scarcity
mindset. They are only intentional about protecting their role, their title and
see all others as a threat to their current role. When you have too many
leaders like this you have a fixed mindset, scarcity culture and that is not
good for anyone.

Let’s dive a little deeper into the words
high-performance. High Performance does not mean they are demanding,
relentless, egotistical or high “D” people if you are familiar with DISC
behavioural styles. What it means is that a high-performance leader operates
like anything that operates at a higher performance than the norm. 

I have grown up around high-performance sport.
Motorsport in cars and motorcycles and more human powered endeavours in sailing
and cycling. High-performance in the context of sport covers a process that
goes like this.

Practice – Event – Learning – Rest – Practice
– Event – Learning – Rest and so on. Each time a Formula One race or MotoGP
bike finishes a race the data is downloaded from both driver/rider and machine,
learnings are gathered, the machine is then stripped down and rebuilt ready for
the next round of practice and event with the new learnings included. The
process is then repeated with the aim of improved performance and stronger
results. It is the same in every sport where high-performance is the ticket to
the dance.

It is no different with leadership. One of the
most important things you can do is create margin for yourself and margin for
your team. Margin is the difference between what you can do and what you are
doing. If they’re exactly the same level you have no capacity, you are run off
your feet, you’re not going to think strategically. If you are doing more than
you are capable of for too long this will result in burnout and no one benefits
from a burned out leader.  How do you
create margin? You must break your time into three sections.

Section one – what
you do on a daily basis with your people. BAU if you will.

Section two – Time
for you to do what leaders need to do and only leaders can do. Still BAU.

Section three – Time
for you and you only to think strategically, grow, invest and upskill.

As a leader it is also important you model the
way for your people and carve out the same regime for them as well. One highly
successful global leader I know carves out 20% of his month for section three
and holds his team accountable for the same splits.

High-performance leaders are also very strong
on accountability and discipline (routine and process).

Let’s now discuss a growth mindset. Despite
Professor Carol Dweck’s groundbreaking book “Mindset” and numerous TED talks I
still think most leaders don’t fully understand it. The most common
misconception is that we are either growth or fixed mindset people. We are not.
It is true that we have a leaning one way or the other but we can be growth,
fixed or even mixed about different things. For example I have a growth mindset
about my career but I have a fixed mindset about the upsides of parachuting
from a perfectly flyable aeroplane! I also have a mixed mindset regarding
certain economic strategies, meaning that I am fixed in my mindset but if the
right circumstances presented themselves I would be willing to consider my
fixed mindset approach. Overall, I am a growth mindset person however at times
I do slip into fixed mindset until my growth mindset subconscious or an
external coach snaps me out of it. This leads me to defining a growth mindset.
My explanation is this – having a growth mindset means:

I believe with the right strategy, effort, coaching
and persistence I can achieve whatever is important to me. With a growth
mindset I seek feedback as this accelerates my learning and I see not
succeeding as experimenting and learning on my way to achieving my goal.

A fixed mindset believes that no matter what
strategy or effort I apply I won’t succeed, I will look like a failure and
therefore it’s not worth trying. I was born in this circumstance and nothing
can improve it. Feedback simply reinforces my view that I can’t do it.

Mixed mindset says that I don’t believe I can
do it, I don’t believe it is possible however if these factors changed or I was
in this position I might be persuaded to try again.

For those of you who believe you are growth
mindset oriented through and through try this question on. Have you ever gone
into a one-on-one review with one of your team, for whom you already had the
opinion that they were not going to be successful? And you were only coaching
them as you had a monthly KPI to do so? I think we have all done this. This
means we had a fixed mindset about their potential. How might our coaching
session go if we went in with a growth mindset?

Coaching, mentoring and accelerated learning
is all part of a growth mindset and it can achieve remarkable results. A recent
example from Hollywood was the successful remake of “A Star is Born” driven and
starring Bradley Cooper. Cooper not only starred in it, he also directed it and
was a co-producer of that movie. Six months before they started filming, he
couldn’t play guitar, couldn’t play piano and couldn’t sing. However, working
with experts in these fields such as Eddie Vedder, Lucas Nelson and Lady Gaga,
combined with a solid routine of effort and persistence, resulted in an award-winning
movie, a best song award at the Grammys and the best original score award at
the BAFTAs.

Microsoft has done probably the biggest shift
in growth mindset at a global corporate level. Led by Satya Nadella, their CEO,
they had to change the game, and change their culture quickly. Chris Capossela
their CMO said “We went from a culture of know-it-alls to a culture of
learn-it-alls.” Which means they had to ask, “Who’s doing stuff
better than us? What programmers, coders, what businesses? Who do we need to
partner with next?” This is a significant shift for an organisation that
had been incredibly successful in the past by being inwardly focused.

Don’t forget that high-performance leaders
fundamentally need to inspire. Leadership gets the team going and management
keeps it going. That’s the difference. You need leaders and managers and
sometimes that hat swaps many times during the day.

There is a saying that “If you want to go
fast, go alone. If you want to go far, get a team”.  I disagree with this. I say if you want to go further and faster than your competition
you will only do it with a team.

Maybe my cycling has proven that to me. As a
leader whether you are leading a Fortune 500 business, a new team, even your
family you need to know how to inspire them and this comes from your ability to
communicate. Every high-performance leader I know has excellent communication
skills. The emphasis being on skills. People are not born communicators. It is
a skill that can be developed and must be developed if you wish to cross the
chasm from manager to leader. Great communication makes people feel something,
it connects and it’s authentic.  For
example, we all know it was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said “I have a
dream” in a powerful live speech. Please note he did not say “I have a dream
and it’s in Slack with a 72 page PowerPoint deck you can read.”

When you want to inspire someone, when you
want to get them to do something different, three things you need to ask
yourself are:

What do I want them to Feel?

How do I want them to Know?

What do I want them to Do? 

I believe we all have the capacity to be
high-performance leaders. I believe leadership is a skill and therefore
something that can be developed and continually enhanced. You may not be a
high-performance leader yet… but with a growth mindset, agility and persistence
it is well within our reach.

Rob Hartnett has worked in senior management roles
at global organizations such as Apple 
Computer, Publicis Mojo, Hewlett-Packard,
and Miller Heiman Group. Hartnett is an independent Executive Director in Leadership
with the John Maxwell Team as well as a Certified DISC Facilitator &
Advisor. For more information, please visit www.robhartnett.com.