High performance leadership: You can't lead when you're running on empty

Have you seen The Wire? Wow. It’s one of the most compelling shows I’ve seen on T.V.! I couldn’t stop watching it last night. I sat down to watch one episode; three episodes later it was 1AM!

When my alarm went off early this morning I lost count of how many times I hit snooze. I ran out of the house without breakfast to make my first meeting on time. Then I hit the traffic! I can’t believe what a little rain does to some drivers.

Then I got to the office and heard my whole staff sitting around the conference room table having a big coffee party. They know about the deadlines we’ve got for today! How can they just sit around talking about their weekend? I launched into a tirade. “Hey, do I have to do everything around here? Is this how we get things done on a busy day?” I was moving into “If this is how you feel about your job maybe you should just go“, when my office manager interrupted to explain that the Internet was down, that they had called the provider and it should be back up in the next 30 min. My mood did not improve.

Stomping back to my office I felt really crappy. I walked in feeling really low. Low on energy, low on will power, and kind of alone really. I saw a situation that triggered me and I let all those low feelings fly. Unfortunately they hit people who didn’t deserve them! Now I need to somehow apologize and make it up to them. But wait. Just because they didn’t deserve it this time doesn’t mean they don’t deserve it. I feel like this a lot. We do have a lot of deadlines we need to hit today — screw it — I’m just going to get to work and try to get stuff done. That will feel better.

Leaders, like professional athletes, have to perform at a high level when they are in the game. (click to tweet)

Making high performance leadership priority, is imperative for business owners. If you lead a team, those people (and their families) depend on you. They need you to perform at a high level every day. That’s an incredible burden — and also a truth. If a professional athlete came to work on just a few hours sleep, in a crabby, and coping with a sugar crash, their performance would suffer. And their team mates would get on their case. Their coaches would take them aside and talk to them about how that’s not going to happen again. “There’s always another talented athlete waiting to take your place…”

But you are an owner, king of your castle, ruler of your company. No one tells you what to do— you’ve earned that. And it’s true; no one is going to take you to task. But they don’t have to respect you, either. They don’t have to give you their best work.

sustainable leadership

We all want a loyal, hardworking team. It makes all the difference in any business. It’s the difference between pushing the rock up the hill all by yourself, and coming back after a long day to find the rock is already at the top of the hill! But getting that kind of high performance from our team comes from honoring them. We honor our team when we do what we have to do to bring our best every day.

When we come to work ready for peak performance we set a standard, and we have fewer outbursts and negative experiences. We are a are someone people want to give their best work to. By elevating our game we elevate the game of those around us.

Here are some words for the wise on high performance leadership:

1. Take care of yourself

I recently heard an NFL running back talking about what it took for him to come out on the field and run as hard as he can toward a bunch of 300 pound guys who are trying to crush him. He attributed his continuing stamina and durability to “the little things I do to recover”. He got a massage after every game, and again on his day off. He felt like stretching, good nutrition, and extra sleep all played a role. He arranged his whole life around keeping his performance at a high level.

Is business ownership as demanding as being an NFL running back? Maybe not, but I believe the stakes are higher. If the running back gets hurt, his team loses. If you aren’t displaying high performance leadership, it affects your clients, your employees and your family. Are you working out? Do you get enough sleep? How’s your nutrition? What changes do you have to make to be able to stay in top form not just today — but for the long-haul?

2. Keep short accounts

When issues come up between people it takes time and energy to resolve them. That’s time and energy that you could be using to get work done! Most days it feels so much more rewarding to get that work done than to have some dramatic conversation resolving things with a co-worker. But over the long-haul those unresolved conversations become like weights dragging down the performance of your whole team. Take a minute to apologize when you blow up, or resolve issues when you become aware of them. Not only will you be free from that weight, but dealing with those issues in the moment will mean more productivity in the long run. [1]

3. Be brave…

Your team is there to support you. If you have the right team they want you to succeed. So let them know what you need from them. Be clear. “When I come into the office and find everyone in the conference room chit-chatting when we are under a big deadline it really stresses me out. I need to know that you are thinking about those deadlines too. How can we do that?”

You need things from them. Be clear, and ask for what you need.

4. …and kind.

Catch some people doing something good — let them know how much you appreciate their support. When we are paying their salaries it can be easy to think, “Why do I have to thank them, I’m paying them!” Even when you are being paid, it feels good to be thanked, to have your efforts recognized. And, for some people, that “thank you” means more than the paycheck.

I intend to be working at this for many years. I know I can’t keep every team member, or every client for decades. But it’s going to be so much easier for me if they love working here. If they leave reluctantly, and have good things to say about me where ever I go. If I’m taking good care of myself, it gives me the internal reserves and capacity to be good to the people I work with and it makes the whole office a nicer place to work.

[1]There are those people who love drama and who regularly need the attention and intensity of “resolving” things. If keeping short accounts with someone is increasing the time and energy you are spending on these issues with a certain team member, you may need to choose to have a different team member — one who needs less attention!

This article is part of our series on how to build a healthy / indestructible business.

Photo credit: VinothChandar

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