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8 steps to turn your potential into high performance (review)

This review first ran in the Aug. 18 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.eight steps

Eight Steps to High Performance

By Marc Effron

Harvard Business Review Press

$39

There will always be someone who’s smarter than you.

And there’ll be someone who’s been blessed with better genes and looks, a more winning personality and a life of privilege thanks to mom and dad or their grandparents.

You can feel cheated. You can be resentful. You can feel sorry for the hand you’ve been dealt.

Or you can outperform pretty much everyone else by focusing on what Marc Effron calls our flexible 50 per cent.

Our unchangeable fixed 50 per cent includes our intelligence, core personality and socioeconomic background.

Our changeable flexible 50 per cent is all about how we set goals, behave, develop, network, present ourselves and manage our sleep. Your fixed 50 will only take you so far. It’s your flexible 50 that turns potential into high performance.

When it comes to becoming a high performer, there’s no shortage of well-meaning advice from books, bosses, family, friends and the Internet.

“Our quest for high performance is often guided by trial and error, as we do what we think is right and then hope for the best results,” says Effron, founder and president of the Talent Strategy Group.

Instead, Effron has identified eight science-based steps to becoming a high performer:

  • Set big goals and adopt a fewer, bigger mindset. “High performers want to meaningfully overachieve in the areas that matter most to the company – they promise big and deliver big.”
  • Behave to perform. “High performers work hard to identify the most productive behaviors, learn new behaviors where needed, and stop showing the less helpful ones.”
  • Grow yourself faster. Adhere to the 70 / 20 / 10 rule. Seventy per cent of your professional growth will come from your work experiences, 20 per cent will come from interactions with others and 10 per cent will come from formal education. To grow faster, identify which work experiences matter most to your organization and do as many of them as quickly as you can. Get both feedback and what Effron calls feedforward.
  • Build networks both inside and outside of work. “Those who connect more effectively have higher performance because they’re able to get more insights, favours and answers from more people.”
  • Maximize your fit. You’re more likely to succeed when your capabilities align with the needs of your organization. “It’s this fit, not just individual brilliance, that science says helps predict strong performance.” Know that as the needs of your organization change, so too must your capabilities.
  • Fake it. “A high performer needs to understand and display the few most powerful behaviors needed at that moment. Since you have a preferred way of behaving, you’re faking it any time you consciously display a behavior that doesn’t agree with your preferences.”
  • Commit your body. Science shows sleep matters most to our performance, exercise matters a little and diet has no measurable effect. Pay attention to both the quality and the quantity of sleep. Six to seven hours of shuteye is the sweetspot.
  • Avoid distractions. Steer clear of the too-good-to-be true performance fads that defy common sense and promise easy fixes. Effron advises against focusing on your strengths and says that science shows emotional intelligence doesn’t predict leadership success, a growth mindset is great for children and power posing is possibly the dumbest management fad to ever grace a TED Talk stage.

You can start taking these eight performance-boosting steps at any time, whether you’re at the front or back end of a career that’s on an upward trajectory or has stalled out and left you in a rut.

“The eight steps are straightforward, but they are not easy,” says Effron.  “Achieving them will take meaningful effort and personal sacrifice. High performance is a choice. Focus on what you can change and ignore the rest.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and lives in Hamilton.

The 3 types of leaders who make us quit (and the 2 who inspire us to stay)

great placeThis review first ran in the Aug. 4 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

A Great Place to Work For All

By Michael Bush

Berrett-Koehler Publishers

$25.95

You may want to see what’s being said about your organization on Glassdoor.

It’s a website that combines job postings with reviews from current and former employees. They rate your organization on work-life balance, culture and values, career opportunities, compensation and benefits and senior management. They also leave  comments on the pros and cons of working for you.

When the reviews are bad, lousy leaders are invariably to blame.

These leaders dwell at the bottom of five levels identified by the Great Places to Work research team. The team pulled data from hundreds of companies and 75,000 employees.

“A great place to work for all must have great managers for all,” says Michael Bush, CEO of Great Places to Work. “When leaders are more inclusive, more inspiring and more caring, they win on outcomes like talent retention, innovation and revenue growth.”

But when they’re clueless, cruel and confidence killers, they’re unintentional leaders. They’re often star performers who got put into leadership roles despite underwhelming or non-existent interpersonal skills. “These are leaders who don’t seem conscious of the impact they have on others, so their behavior can hurt the people they work with and the organization,” says Bush. “Employees reporting to an unintentional leader might feel like passengers on a bus whose driver doesn’t have a destination in mind and doesn’t tell the passengers what’s going on.”

While we join organizations, we quit unintentional leaders and two other lackluster types.

quit

Hit and miss leaders run hot and cold and don’t always step up. Life is good if you’re one of the leader’s favourites and it’s like your worst day of high school if you’re on the outside looking in. “They don’t actively hurt an organization but neither are they actively supporting their team or performing their duties to the extent the organization needs.”

Transactional leaders get the job done and nothing more. “They are mainly concerned with checking tasks off a to-do list or hitting key performance indicators and consequently are not as forward-thinking or charismatic as leaders at higher levels.” These by-the-book leaders value getting things done over talking to people which leaves them with few, if any, personal connections. These leaders will have no idea and zero interest in learning what you do outside of work. You should get paid time and a half whenever you try to engage in small talk with a transactional leader who has all the warmth and personality of a bag of ice.

Good leaders are consistent, inclusive and sincere. They’re easy to talk to, understanding and fair. Employees will stick with the organization if they work for a good leader. If there’s a downside to good leaders, Bush says it’s their tendency to believe the ultimate responsibility for reaching goals lies with them and not their team. “Leaders at this level must abandon any ego attached to being the boss, and subsume their own interests in the service of helping others shine.”

The gold standard are what Bush calls “for all” leaders. These are those rare dream bosses who get the absolute most out of their teams and inspire loyalty and full engagement. No one leaves their teams and everyone wants to join. They prefer to lead from behind so the people who report to them will shine and do their best work. “For all leaders make everyone feel welcome and treated fairly and establish a strong sense of collaboration within teams as well as through different areas of the organization. They stand out for their ability to reduce politicking and favouritism to nearly imperceptible levels, perhaps because they do a great job of getting feedback from everyone and involving them in decisions.”

Most important, “for all” leaders go beyond the boundaries of business. They use their leadership position and profile to help promote positive societal change, from closing gender pay gaps to championing environmental sustainability and fighting racism. They speak up and take stands on issues that are important to employees, their families and society.

“The new frontier in business is about improving results by developing every ounce of human potential,” says Bush. His book shows how leaders can step up their game to develop that potential, turn their organizations into great places to work and earn top marks from current and former employees.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.