Successful leaders know the go-to moves for performance improvement. They’ve perfected their methods because they’ve had to constantly improve to stay on top.
For them, improving becomes automatic. It’s a way of life.
They know greatness isn’t winning once—it’s winning consistently. They know the best life is a life of challenge and growth because it pays off in a steady stream of bigger and bigger rewards—they not only have systems in place to get the important things done, they also have systems for improving.
Growing teams are full of energy and excitement. Performance is at its highest because everyone is working together on something big. Each member feels important and knows they play a key role in the team’s success.
Constant improvement allows your team to do things quicker, faster, better, and simpler. Greater efficiency equals greater results. That keeps your team fresh, which keeps them inspired and full of hope.
Things don’t stay the same. They are constantly getting better.
My experience building and maintaining excited teams, while watching my peers lose the teams they created, has shown me that firsthand. In my career, I had to learn how to survive during traumatic leadership changes, product changes, economic changes, technology changes, regulatory changes, key personnel changes . . . change, change, change all the time.
This isn’t unusual of course, and everyone who’s in leadership positions for a long time will eventually have to deal with these themselves, but it does teach you to stay on your toes. It’s like riding a bucking bronco. Your job is to stay in control and not get thrown off track.
In spite of that, some challenges are bigger than others.
For example, many years ago in my financial services business, the president and founder of the company was abruptly removed, and the business essentially went into a free fall. The company lost 50–80% of people, including their management team.
Over in my camp, we only had a net 5% loss. We retained 95% of our people.
No matter what, we were always growing, and we were able to survive this challenge like all of the others with minimal damage—primarily because we all were trained to keep focusing on the future, not what was happening around us.
When performance improvement is neglected, teams aren’t challenged. They lose their spark, their energy. Production starts to decline and that sets off a cascade of negative results that can have disastrous consequences.
The best people will want growth and eventually leave to find other opportunities that can offer it to them. The ones who stick around will feel unmotivated and often develop bad habits that kill team productivity.
Most leaders would admit they need to improve. Deep down inside they know they and their teams are capable of bigger and better things. But, at the end of each day, if you check to see what they actually did to improve and grow, it wasn’t much. Usually, it’s nothing.
It may be that they don’t think the timing is right. They’re waiting on some things to clear up before making any changes. They just keep waiting, and waiting, and waiting, but the perfect time never presents itself, and their performance stagnates.
It’s always the same—making excuses, getting caught up in minor details and losing focus, which causes them to get off track and off schedule.
Maybe it seems like a lost cause. They don’t think their people are capable of improving. They think, “They’re doing their best.” And they never challenge them to do more.
Or maybe they like the way things are—simple, easy, hands-off. They think, “They know what to do. They don’t need me.”
But leaders who don’t improve eventually fade. It is inevitable. And it happens so slowly that they don’t realize what’s happening to them until it’s too late and they are in a slump.Leaders who don't improve eventually fade. It's inevitable. Click To Tweet
Every day, great businesses close because they didn’t improve their marketing fast enough to beat the competition. It doesn’t matter that their product was better. Without the sales, they can’t stay in business.
Good, loyal employees are passed over for promotions all the time because someone else’s team outperformed them. So what if they’ve been at the company longer? The people who get the most done are the ones who get rewarded.
If you want something badly enough, you better be willing to do more than what’s expected, or your competition will sneak up on you and beat you.
Co-founder and Director of Business Development at 123 Home Care, Mark Schellinger, says that growth-centric leaders attract powerful players and create a positive loopback of development.
You either grow or you die. Improve or stagnate and slide back to mediocrity.
Unfortunately, a lot of the schools were small, and we didn’t have the best coaching.
This was before the days of ESPN and 24-hour sports on TV, so we never really thought about the opportunity for playing beyond high school—and I played with some really great athletes.
It was 20 years later before I realized I never heard a coach say to me, or anyone else on the teams I played on, “Hey, if you really buckle down and work hard over the summer, you might be able to get a scholarship.” We were never told, “There are camps coming up where you can improve your speed, where you can improve your skills. And, if you put enough work in, there’s no telling how far you can go.”
That was never discussed.
The impression we had was that you were either fast or slow. The fact that you could improve and become faster, better, stronger was never presented other than just come to practice and work hard.
We were never challenged to make the extra effort that leads to the really superior performance that’s required to get scholarships.
As a result, I don’t remember anyone that I played sports with in high school ever getting a scholarship, and a bunch of them should have.
The coaches had no vision. As a result, they didn’t pass a vision on to us. They never challenged us to see how good we could be.
Now I wonder what would have happened if they had.
One thing I do know is we would have all made a much bigger effort to improve, we would have gotten a lot better, and we would have won a lot more games.
The truth is anybody can improve, and some can even become great, by having a growth mindset.
Renowned psychologist and Stanford University professor Carol Dweck says people with a growth mindset achieve more because they believe that effort leads to improvement.
Forbes contributor, William Craig, says that a growth mindset opens your mind to be inspired. A fixed mindset leaves you with limited ideas and resources—but by honing a mindset of growth, you place value in discovering new things and listening to the ideas of others.
Winners tend to have a growth mindset, and they put in the extra effort that’s required to get better and win.
The best leaders don’t think about performance improvement once a quarter or at the end of every month. No. They are always improving.
Even Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Paul Simon (of Simon & Garfunkel), who in 2011 was named one of the 100 greatest guitarists by Rolling Stone, is still taking guitar lessons at age 70.
The ABI Principle (always be improving) is the difference between winning occasionally and winning consistently. It’s how Serial Winners approach everything they do—their careers, their hobbies, their relationships.
Over time, winners develop an instinct to recognize their mistakes and look for ways to consistently improve in every area.
This is what the progression looks like:
The best leaders make improvements on a daily basis to stay ahead of the curve, to shift the odds of success in their favor, and to consistently meet their goals.
Anytime you start something new, you are inefficient and unproductive because you are just getting going.
You look around, and your results stink compared to people who have been doing this for a long time. But don’t worry. You are going to get better.
Stay on track!
And, even though others have been at it longer and are having much more success than you, if they don’t keep improving, you are going to eventually pass them and leave them in your rearview mirror.
By doing what winning leaders do to improve their performance, you have the best chance of succeeding.
Here are the top 10 performance improvement hacks you can copy from successful leaders to get and stay ahead:
Ever heard the old saying, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’? The wise know it’s easier to steer around a problem than wait until it hits you head-on, knocking you off track. Keep your head on a swivel and your eyes wide open.
Like a shepherd watching out for his flock, protect your team from dangers that they may be unaware of or unable to do anything about.
As a leader, you have more experience and more information. The burden falls on you to look out for your team’s best interests.As a leader, you have more experience and more information. The burden falls on you to look out for your team’s best interests. Click To Tweet
Find the best and brightest in your industry. Sign up for their email lists, follow them on social media.
If a big breakthrough happens in your industry, you’ll be the first to know and be able to make necessary changes fast.
It doesn’t take much time, and it gives you a competitive edge.
Your competition is catching up at all times.
To beat those who are ahead of you and stay ahead of those chasing you, you need competitive advantages. The best place to find them is to look at those that are in front of you. Remember that ideas are a dime a dozen, and they don’t care who uses them.Ideas are a dime a dozen, and they don't care who uses them. Click To Tweet
World champion rower Tom Murray told Harvard Business Review that competition is what inspired him to be the best he could possibly be. In the same article, Dr. Graham Jones discusses how the elite companies push their top performers through healthy competition and development programs.
All of these efforts are attempts to create an environment based on finding your competitive advantage and gauging your peers’ excellence.
What are they doing that you’re not? Which of those ideas can you incorporate to give your team more success?
For the team to improve, the leader must improve. You can’t stay the same and expect your team to get bigger and more efficient. When the leader stagnates, the team stagnates.
Notice and prepare for potential opportunities by learning new skills, and inspire your team to grow with you.
I’m not talking about new skills like learning to play the violin. Look for skills and tools that will allow you to do the things you are already doing even quicker, faster, and better.
If you want to learn the violin—great. But it won’t necessarily improve your leadership skills.
Know what’s going on at all times.
Don’t assume—check and measure. Activity that is measured increases.
You can’t do everything, but you can know everything that’s going on. Keep track of whether or not people are on pace. Know whether or not they are improving.
Make this easy on yourself by just tracking performance in the key areas. Don’t waste your time monitoring things that don’t really matter.
A business never runs itself at peak performance. No team wins the Super Bowl with their coach at home on the couch.
It’s up to you to check in with your team and make sure the most important things are getting done.
To keep your team unified, their performance peaked, and their morale high, you must have them working together, racing toward their next big team target.
They must believe the purpose of the team is to do something big, so give them something big to do!
It may be impossible for them to individually break records and win awards. But by having a big team goal, you give them the chance to make a contribution and be a part of a championship team.
When people don’t have something specific to work on, they drift.
Everyone needs to know their particular goal and job to help the team to win. Everyone must know how they will specifically be held accountable and what things will get them special recognition.
Find ways to let your team compete and incentivize them to win. Spend the time to make sure everyone has a special target.
In the big leagues, speed is one of the biggest determining factors of who wins and who loses. Teams that slow down become complacent and often never recover.
Ask yourself, “What can we do faster?”
If you slack off, the competition will be right behind you ready to race past and beat you.
There’s nothing better to take the pain out of dull, repetitive, but necessary tasks than by finding ways to do them quicker, better, and faster.
Simplify to multiply your productivity. Manage your priorities by regularly auditing what is essential and what isn’t. Constantly refine, improve, and polish your systems.
Leverage technology to automate where you can. See what you can eliminate to save time and money that could be better allocated to other things.
There is no better time to ask, “What did I do wrong? What could I have done better?” than right when you finish a project or come off a success.
Talk with your people about what you can do better next time and start racing towards bigger and better goals. This reboots your team with energy and direction for your next success, so don’t allow any downtime before you announce your next, bigger target.
Of course, if they made a big effort and had a huge success, you’re going to celebrate. But it’s during the celebration that you have the perfect time to announce your next exciting goal!
If you’re coming off of a failure, there is no time to celebrate because the only way to deal with failure is to quickly assess what went wrong and what you could do better. You must turn things around immediately to maintain momentum. Get back on the attack by tripling your activity so you guarantee failure won’t happen again.
Your response to failure sends a signal to yourself and your team that it is unacceptable and you are willing to do whatever it takes to get back in the winning column fast.
Successful leaders are always improving. They know performance improvement will compound over time to help them win consistently and lead to new opportunities.Successful leaders are always improving. Click To Tweet
We’re all lousy in the beginning. So what? We all have to start somewhere.
The good news is not only that you can get better if you work and improve—you will get better.
There are specific things you can do to improve the performance of your team and set yourself up for success.
Identify performance improvement opportunities and problems, and challenge your team to grow.
One day down the road, people will come up and look at you and your team with wonder and say, “how did all this happen?” They’ll be looking for an easy answer and they won’t find one.
The exciting thing to remember while you’re working and challenging your team to improve is that anyone who wants to compete with you in the future is going to have to go through all of the same steps you did and most of them will simply not be able to get themselves to do it.
You will have earned the right to stand out and compete at the highest level because you went through the process it took to get there.