ATD Blog

How to Lead Your Team to Extreme Performance

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

“A company is like a ship ... everyone should be prepared to take the helm.”
—Henrik Ibsen

If you like hierarchy, stop reading this article on leadership. Go back to barking orders and keeping people in line. Know, though, that you will never be a victorious leader of a peak-performance team.

Peak-performance teams operate differently than the ones that operate on the top-down leadership style we see in the military. Barking orders works well when you lead soldiers into battle, but it doesn’t help a team adapt to the ever-changing conditions of a business.

In this final article of my series on extreme performance, I’m going to address kinetic leadership. If you want to be able to lead a successful team in your industry, you’ll need to know how to change who leads the team and how leaders should adapt their leadership styles.

Change Leaders

The most consistently high-performing teams are not led by a single leader. Extreme-performance teams are led by multiple people. The leaders change as the conditions and challenges change.


Everyone on the team should be ready to lead—and should be expected to. When I was racing nonstop for six to 10 days, we had a formal team captain for the record book, but the team captain didn’t call all the shots. When we got to paddling sections in the jungle, Ian Adamson took over. If the terrain was difficult, Neil Jones came forward to guide our way. If mountain biking was our mode of transportation for that leg of the race, Ian Edmond set the pace.

If you want your teams to reach extreme performance, you need to change leaders based on expertise. It helped our team become Adventure Racing World Champions.

Change Leadership Styles


Not only does your team need to change leaders, but the leaders must be able to change their style of leadership depending on the situation.

Sometimes a team needs a visionary to show the way, a motivator to inspire, or a friend to give a warm hug. The best leaders know when to change and use their emotional intelligence to determine which style to use.

As I wrote in my Tibet Raid Gauloise racing article, we faced a problem when our team’s mountain bikes were missing from our transition area. It seemed like the race was over until Robert, John, and Keith changed their leadership styles. They formed a vision for how we could go forward by borrowing bikes from the locals.

After we gathered these rusting relics, they changed their leadership style again. They provided inspiration to the team so we believed we could win on borrowed bikes. They knew just what to do to keep us going. We didn’t win the race that time, but we did reach extreme performance, so the next time we raced we were able to handle the challenges and win.

If you want your teams to reach extreme performance, you need to be flexible. Allow different leaders to emerge and to use different leadership styles to give your team what it needs.

About the Author

Robyn Benincasa is a CNN Hero, motivational speaker, thought leader, world champion adventure racer, founder of Project Athena, and author of the New York Times bestseller How Winning Works.

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