In business today, there is a huge gap between those who talk leadership and those who actually walk leadership. In my previous career in the fire service, I quickly realized how important leadership was. When we were operating on a fire scene there was nowhere to hide and those who only talked a great leadership game were quickly exposed. The fire scene quickly demonstrated a leader’s calmness, clarity, and the ability to concisely communicate and it impacted everyone. There was no room for the leader who was having a "bad" day, who left their best mindset at home, or who on that day just didn't have the energy to give to others or the resilience to quickly bounce back or adjust to a setback. A leader couldn't tell everyone else how important these things were and then not live them because they instantly lost all credibility.
To me, one huge bridge that quickly closes this gap between talking leadership and walking leadership is Sustainable High Performance. While some leaders may be able to get a lot out of their teams for a short confined time, it is too often at the cost of exhausting their best talent, of driving key people into the ground, and of role modeling risky and unsustainable behaviors. These leaders too often are unfocused and undisciplined and grab onto every new shiny trend and cliche rather than role modeling, inspiring, and leading with Sustainable High Performance. On normal quiet days (something that is quickly disappearing in most businesses), these leaders can skate by but when a tough day hits and true leadership is required, they are exposed.
I reached out to the Dun and Bradstreet Chief People Officer, Roslynn Williams, to ask her to describe what Sustainable High Performance leadership looks like during the highest stress, must-deliver circumstances knowing that their leadership team had just gone through one of those times. Here are some of the keys to what the very best sustainable high performance leaders have:
1. The most successful leaders are not super human and they know this. They feel frustration, anger, disappointment, worry, and exhaustion just like everyone else. They are highly aware and willing to be vulnerable, but they are constantly resetting, reframing, and recharging themselves so the situation doesn't get the best of them. They know that they don't have to do this alone - leaning on their support network to lift them. True Sustainable High Performing leaders allow themselves to be human, leveraging humor, compassion, and grace to relieve the stress for themselves and those around them.
2. They can travel the long and hard journey and they know that their body is the vehicle. Most of these leaders use movement (even if it is quick and short) to unplug and destress - it is their quiet time to think. Similarly, they know that their brain and body need the right fuel and they appreciate how this impacts their decision-making and peak performances. They rarely leave their movement and nutrition to chance.
3. They create a personal support network. Tough grueling situations require perseverance, resilience, and stamina. There is little opportunity to let down and a network of people who believe in them and who they believe in becomes essential. Great leaders build their own and everyone else's self-image.
4. Most importantly, the very best leaders have an exceptional mindset. During the highest pressure, they are mindful of how their energy, words, tone, and actions deeply affect those around them. They know that this will either lift or deflate the team. They are intentional in what they do and they do not allow the emotions of the situation to control them. They are deeply humble and often laugh at themself even in the heat of the battle. This authentically reduces other's stress and provides a needed perspective.
5. Lastly, they take time to reflect on their successes. For some, this might be the hardest element to find time for as they are often brutally hard on themselves and eager to move on to the next challenge. These unique leaders use these moments of reflection to celebrate, help strengthen their mindset, and quickly recover. It’s an opportunity to grow and strengthen their self-image, to deepen their sense of gratitude, and build deeper roots with their key relationships.
When the @#$% hits the fan, it may be too late to suddenly become a Sustainable High Performing leader who not only can bring out their personal best but also the best in those around them. Tough times will bring out the best in great leaders or the worse in lesser leaders. It's your choice, which do you want to be?
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.
By Scott Peltin
Founder/Chief Performance Officer