The Philosophy for Leading High-Performing Teams

Posted On: November 4

For the past 20 years, I have been teaching executive-level classes on leadership, strategy, teamwork, the future of business and high-performance teams at the Wharton School of Business on behalf of the Securities Industry Institute.  Last year, I was asked by one of my students, a wonderful gentleman named Jared Nepa, if I would coach him on how to be a better team leader in his organization.  We’ve now been working together for about eight months, and as a final step on that topic (we’re moving onto strategic thinking next) I asked him to write his “philosophy for leading high-performance teams.”

I have been a consultant and executive trainer for hundreds of companies and coached a lot of people, but Jared’s philosophy is among the best I’ve ever seen.  He really gave it some serious thought and has covered what I believe are the fundamental things one must focus on to be a highly effective team leader.  Take your time reading this, I think you’re going to get some very powerful ideas that will help you be significantly more successful working in and leading teams.

The Philosophy for Leading High-Performance Teams – Jared Nepa

Leadership refers to an individual’s ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward organizational and personal success.  Great leaders never highlight themselves or their own actions.  Their actions, behaviors, strategies, and attitude are reflected in the teams that they lead.  

The achievements of high performing teams begin and end with great leadership. To effectively build and lead a high performing team, the leader must adhere to three guiding principles. These principles will drive the behavior of the team.

  1. Actions must place the good of the team over the self-interest of the leader.
  2. Must maintain a high level of integrity, be able to clearly communicate, and lead by example.
  3. Be accountable, take ownership of everything the team does or does not achieve.

Nonnegotiable Leadership Characteristics:

  • Ability to cast a clear vision for the future
  • Build & Maintain Trust
    • Examples of How:
      • Consistency – Fair but not Equal treatment, Reciprocal Accountability
      • Communication – Be authentic, transparent and honest
      • Competence – understand strategy and key initiatives before developing an execution plan
      • Care – Choose Leadership because you care, and will commit to getting better every day
  • Blended Skillset
    • Operate with ability for strategy and execution
    • Know where the team needs to go and understand “how” to get there
  • Diplomatic Approach
    • Ability to unite stakeholders and limit internal division
  • Effective Communicator
    • Clarity in communication
    • Prioritization to be able to focus on achieving specific results and goals
  • Empower the Team and Does not micro-manage
    • Never micro-manage
    • Set the tone of the team
    • Employ decentralized command
    • Be responsive when/if needed
  • Run Effective Meetings
    • Include: agenda, purpose, summarized outcomes, assignable action steps, execution, and measurable results
  • Growth Mindset
    • Practice Mindfulness – Blended Vision
      • What’s needed to execute NOW
      • Commitment to Envisioning what will be needed in the FUTURE
    • Commitment to Discovery and Innovative Thinking 
    • Questioning/Observing/Networking/Experimenting (safe fails)
      • Identify – problems, patterns, and solutions from unrelated fields
  • Never take oneself too seriously. HAVE FUN!

High-Performing teams are built around 3 Core Elements: 

  1. People
  2. Action
  3. Feedback

People – Surround yourself and build your team with the most competent people 

Nonnegotiable Characteristics of People
  • Talent
    • Focus on having the best players
    • Then focus on the position
  • Trustworthy & Good Moral Compass
    • Honesty, authenticity, and vulnerability 
    • Balance between conformity & conflict
  • Uncommon Discipline
    • Ownership for their actions and the actions of the team
    • Accountability – Do what you say you will do
  • High AQ (Adaptability Quotient)
    • Thirst for learning
    • Not afraid of change
  • Track record of success
    • Persistence and grit
  • Open to collaboration for the greater good of the team
    • Willingness to coach and be coached
    • “We” never “me” mindset

Actions – Clearly defined and focused on achieving specific results

Nonnegotiable Characteristics of Actions
  • Execute the Fundamentals with Uncommon Discipline
  • Prioritize & Make Decisions
  • Vision-focused
    • Always cast the vision to the team
    • Don’t be afraid to overcommunicate this vision
    • Keep the big-picture goal in mind
  • Simplify the Strategy 
    • Narrow the focus so the strategy isn’t overwhelming
    • Identify how we will achieve the Vision with segmented steps
  • Obtain Commitment through Consensus
    • Make sure all stakeholders are on the same page
    • Use clear, consistent communication with all stakeholders
  • Identify Specific Actions that lead to success – Be clear regarding Expectations
    • Example for sales execution:
      • Spending time on the right opportunities
        • Client segmentation
      • Preparation
        • Clearly defined agenda/purpose
      • Execute effectively in Meetings
        • Ask great questions & leverage only the resources necessary
      • Follow-through
        • Clearly defining next steps – who does what next by when
  • Develop repeatable processes and systems
    • Is the system foolproof?
    • Simplify actions needed to achieve desired goals/results
  • Support, train, and develop the team
    • Invest in the team for greater success
    • Target areas with the highest return on investment
  • Measure consistently
    • The goals or results must be binary
    • Example: Achieved: Yes/No – No guessing
  • Celebrate success and eliminate mediocrity

Feedback – Create processes that consistently seek improvement

Nonnegotiable Characteristics of Feedback
  • Develop a mastermind group
    • Members inside and outside of your daily business/industry
    • Be open to both the insider and outsider perspective of third party members
  • Create a culture built around Psychological Safety
    • Encourage healthy conflict and debate
    • If not, underlying problems will fester until they can destroy your team
  • Create a consistent process for measuring team satisfaction and engagement
    • Receiving feedback is equally important as giving it
    • Engage with stakeholders in the form of 1-1 meetings, electronic surveys, and 360° performance evaluations
  • Slow Down
    • Listen with the intent to fully understand
    • Obtain facts/data – (Not all… but what’s need to make a sound decision)
  • Discuss & Debate
    • Fair treatment for all responses
    • Equal responses may make it seem that responses are canned
  • Take Action
    • Implement the team’s feedback
    • Set clear expectations for yourself and the team when it comes to “change management”
  • Adjust & Innovate as needed
    • Innovate for today and tomorrow
    • Act with a mindset of “never best – always better…” that way complacency doesn’t get in the way

The best leaders get the most out of their teams because they understand that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the collective effort of a team will always produce better results than a single individual if the group is lead properly.  The leader must commit to surrounding themselves with the most talented people, engaging in actions focused on achieving specific results while consistently seeking feedback to improve themselves and the team. This philosophy will ensure high performance and achievement of goals.

Wow, I told you Jared did a great job!  So here are four challenges for you and your team to apply and grow from this philosophy:

  1. Re-read this list two more times.
  2. Set aside some time, at least a few hours, to create your “philosophy for leading high-performance teams.”
  3. Read over your philosophy once a week and hold yourself accountable to actually implementing all of the things you have written.
  4. Give a copy of your philosophy to everyone on your team and ask them to hold you accountable for doing what you have written.

I know that if you accept these four challenges, you will dramatically improve your ability to effectively lead high-performance teams.

Jared Nepa is a National Sales Manager at Lincoln Financial Distributors, where he leads a team of sales managers and wholesalers for Lincoln’s annuities business. Jared is an avid learner and most recently Graduated from Wharton’s Securities Industry Institute program, during which time Jared has taken several leadership courses taught by John Spence and other professors in the program.

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