How to lead a high-performing team

Workplace expert and award-winning author Michelle Gibbings says the key to successful leadership is making the effort to understand yourself and the people around you.

Michelle says a thriving workplace and high-performance culture starts with the leadership.

And in her experience, the best leaders focus on the relationships they build and the opportunities for growth they provide.

Spend more time on people, less on tasks

“The boss that sticks out in my mind is the one who really challenged my notion of what it meant to lead. She said no one’s going to really remember the work and the output, because when you leave, someone’s going to come into this role and they’ll do it differently, maybe even better than you. The bit that’s going to stick with your team is how you make them feel. Are you helping them get to places in their career that they can’t get to?” she told KnowHow founder Bushy Martin on the Get Invested podcast.

“It was a real wake up call for me because I sat back and realised that I was spending far more time on the task and less on the people. And so I flipped it and I invested my energy doing one-on-ones and really understanding my team, not just at a team level but at an individual level. Who were they? What motivated them? What were their hopes and fears and dreams when it came to their career? And how could I help them navigate that? So if you can work with people, understand their context and understand their environment and equip them with the skills so that they can be their best and then bring out the best in the people around them – that’s when you get great things happening.

“And the more I invested in that knowledge and those insights and really helped them, the more loyalty it built, because if they know that you’ve got their backs, if they know that you’re really there for them, they’ll help you when you’re struggling under pressure. They’re there for you. They’re going to stay back. They’re going to do the work.”

What to do when a star team member quits

A big part of encouraging growth is being open to the fact that team members may wish to change pathways or move on completely.

“Don’t be offended if they say, ‘hey I’m ready to do something else,’ because often what I see are bosses that get upset particularly if a star performer wants to move somewhere else, and you don’t want that. Really treat them with respect and understand where they’re coming from. We look for leaders that inspire us and help to bring the best out of us. And we want leaders who make us feel confident and comfortable about where the future is going,” Michelle said.

Leaders must become great communicators

Michelle also elaborated on the power of communication and timely feedback, which is essential to building trust within a team.

“You can still challenge them and give them feedback. People want feedback, but they need feedback that’s timely. They need feedback that is well delivered,” Michelle said.

“And also they really want to work with leaders that have a sense of direction. Where are we going with things and how do I get involved in that? And often where I see leaders falling down is they go, ‘oh people don’t need to know that, I’ll tell them what they need to know’. And the people around them are going, ‘but I feel like I’m operating in a vacuum, I don’t understand how this piece fits with this next piece’. So give them context and trust your team.

“When you build trust with your team, when you give them the right capability, when you give them that confidence that you know that they can do it, you can be surprised as to what people can achieve. So back your team and they’ll back you.”

Leaders need to be self-aware

Understanding yourself is also important. Michelle revealed that lacking self-awareness is one of the biggest problems a leader can face.

“I think one of the hardest things is a lack of self-awareness. You need to understand yourself and understand how you’re triggered, but you also need to understand the impact that you have on others. And sometimes when people see themselves as self aware, they go ‘oh I really understand myself,’ but they are not aware of the impact that their behaviour is having on the people around them,” she explained.

“No one wakes up and says ‘I’m going to be a bad boss today’ … what often happens is people are in situations that are stressful, they’re out of their depth, or there’s just an unusual context and environment that isn’t bringing out their best and they’re reacting to what’s going on.”

There are many types of leaders

There are many leadership moulds, and it all depends on your situation, team, and motivation to learn.

“One myth is that leadership is one size and one shape. To me, leadership is very much contextual. You really do need to understand the environment that you’re in and adapt,” Michelle said.

“Also, leadership is something that is learned. I don’t subscribe to this sort of mythology that you are born a leader, you are ordained a leader and that’s it. To me, leadership is something that is absolutely a skill that can be learned. But the most important thing is that you have to want to learn it. You have to want to become a better leader, because you can be put through all the leadership courses in the world, you can be mentored, you can be coached, but if you don’t want to do better and be better, it’s not going to make any difference.”

Listen to the full interview here.

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