It’s quite an art to be an effective leader in a workplace where you are surrounded by high performance employees. Get it wrong, they’ll leave you; get it right, they will produce the most amazing outcomes and surprise you on what they can achieve as a team.

After decades of working with some incredibly high performers, I now believe and live by six key leadership elements. You can also employ and implement these as a leader, and high performance employees will respond to them.

Element 1. Give them TRUST in the first instance rather than waiting for them to earn it

The commonly held view that people have to earn trust needs to be left behind in the last century where it belongs. High performance employees want to be trusted and can be trusted; it’s actually the leaders who have to earn the trust of the employees.

Element 2. Manage their FOCUS, and agree on outcomes, but let them own the activity

High performance employees don’t need to be told what to do. All you need to do is point them in the right direction and influence what they focus on, they’ll do the rest .. and they’ll learn rapidly along the way.

Like anything, there will be exceptions such as high risk missions, emergent event situations where you have all of the information … refer to step 3.

Element 3. Tell them WHY in situations where you direct their ACTIONS

It’s super important to recognise that WHY is important to smart people. Of course you can tell employees what to do or what they need to achieve. However, without an understanding of WHY it’s important.. motivation becomes the issue. Give smart people a big enough WHY they relate to, and watch them change the world.

Element 4. Get comfortable with giving feedback for good and bad performance

High performance employees respond well to feedback when it is fair, honest, to the point, and is balanced. Feedback needs to cover what they did well that you want repeated, as well as what they can improve. A leader who is comfortable with and consistent in giving effective feedback related to both ends of the performance continuum, will find they can [metaphorically speaking] ‘kick em’ and ‘kiss em’ and the employee will experience both forms as positive.

Element 5. Give them absolute candour while being careful to avoid inferences

Honesty and condor is vital when dealing with smart people. They get the point you’re trying to make fast, and they learn quickly. They’ll definitely see through any waffle and fluffiness intended to veil a message.

The key for you is to keep all feedback conversation, particularly when it’s an intervention about less than desired performance, about what you have observed.. not any inference you might have drawn from what you observed.

Element 6. Care for the employees more than you need to be cared for yourself

When you care for them, they’ll care for you, but that’s not the goal. Caring for employees is the foundation for a healthy culture, strong bonds within an organisation, and employee loyalty to you. When you care, you have a platform for loyalty to them.

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