‘The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.’ This was said almost 2000 years ago by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and it’s still valid today. High performance leadership is based on beliefs that are sometimes counter intuitive, even controversial, yet essential and effective. In my work with high performance leaders I have found four distinctions which are at the core of building a high performance organization and leading the field.
The first distinction is between everything counts versus few things matter. The best leaders realize that the minimum high-performance behavior they show themselves is the maximum high-performance behavior they can expect from others. They are, therefore, very clear about which leadership standards to exhibit all the time. They know that everything counts.
The second distinction is between production before perfection versus having all your ducks perfectly in a row. You need to be comfortable to launch an initiative when it’s 80 percent ready. The remaining 20 percent can only be done while in motion. This is the production before perfection principle. Take for instance a cruise missile. No matter how thorough the preparation on the ground, the missile can only reach its target once it gets constant trajectory feedback after launch. Preeminent leaders understand that the enemy of accomplishment is perfection. They focus on getting their work to the world outside.
The third distinction is between the trim tab principle versus the big push. High-performance leaders see themselves as trim tabs. A trim tab is a little rudder that moves a big rudder, which, subsequently moves a massive oil tanker. It is a metaphor for the ability of leaders to change entire organizations by consistently applying desired behaviors themselves. Business success is more like a marathon than a sprint. Every overnight success is preceded by years or even decades of work. As Lord Overstone once said “no warning can save people determined to grow suddenly rich.”
The fourth distinction is growth focus versus focus on everything else. Profitable growth is the essential component for any business to thrive in the long term. If an organization doesn’t grow, it withers and in the end will be overrun by its competitors. If you are a business leader, growth focus should be the overriding principle of every business decision you make. If you are a professional looking for ways to accelerate your career, the best approach is to find ways to contribute as much as possible to the growth of your company. This mindset alone will set you apart from virtually all of your peers.