ATD Blog

Leading Yourself First

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

In this era of doing more with less, gutted training budgets, and disengaged workers, how can you create a high-performance team—a team that achieves enduring and ethical excellence?

According to leadership author Stephen M. R. Covey, the average organization has only two engaged workers for every one disengaged, while world-class organizations have nine engaged employees for every disengaged. Disengaged workers cause huge problems: low productivity, absenteeism, high turnover, lack of innovation and accountability, low morale, poor quality, customer dissatisfaction, and the need for micromanagement.

But creating a great team doesn’t happen overnight. It takes work, leadership, and commitment, but the benefits are enormous. High-performance teams achieve exceptional results because they are

  • highly productive
  • quick to solve problems
  • innovative
  • engaged
  • committed
  • aligned.

For you, the manager, a high-performance team lessens your workload, allows you to focus on higher priorities, generates recruiting leverage for more talent, and lowers your stress. Everyone on a high-performance team finds more joy in work.
Most people want to do a good job and be part of a high-performance team. They just don’t know what their leadership or followership role might be in such a team. That’s your challenge as their leader, and it starts within.

Creating a high-performance team is a leadership journey that starts with self-leadership. Begin by answering the question, “Why do you want to lead?” Is it because of status—having a prestigious title? To make more money? To be in control or have power? For the “perks” of management? 


All those traditional reasons will undermine your management because they are ego-driven. Your team picks up on them and withholds trust. People don’t take risks and put themselves on the line for leaders who are mostly interested in themselves.

Members of your team will put even more of themselves out there if you have the courage to be vulnerable. In other words, you don’t have to have all the answers. Not everything is under control. And yes, you make mistakes—more important, you own up to them and make them right.  You acknowledge that you need their help and creatively look for ways to help them.

Your self-leadership should involve having a clear sense of your personal purpose and values. Our purpose is our reason for being. Think of it as your calling. It answers the question: Why am I here? When we have a clear sense of purpose, our leadership is stronger because it rests on a solid foundation. For example, Bob’s purpose is: “To make the world a better place, even slightly.”


Personal values are those things that are important to you. Think about what you believe and stand for, and your convictions about what is most important in life. While many organizations have statements of their values, in our experience many people don’t take the time to identify their own values.

We believe there is great power in making our personal values explicit and communicating them with others via respectful dialogue. Values matter because what you deem important guides your behavior. Many people run into trouble when they start living and leading in ways that conflict with their values. If you aren’t sure how to start, check out  “Personal Values Exercise” that we created to help you determine your values.

To create a high-performance team, your employees have to know that you believe in, respect, and truly care about them. You will need to role model the behavior that you want to encourage, and serve them so that you can accomplish extraordinary things together.

About the Author

Bob has served as CEO of New York Stock Exchange companies during his thirty-year business career. As the former CEO, Bob guided Sensormatic (a $1 billion security company) and Recognition Equipment (a $250 million high-tech company) through successful turnarounds. Bob is co-author of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (McGraw-Hill), a 2013 International Book Awards winner. Bob has served as Group Vice President and Division President of two major divisions of Pitney Bowes and Vice President, General Manager of two divisions of Avery International. Bob has led businesses and teams that have won numerous local, state, and national awards, including a state-level Malcolm Baldrige Quality Prize and the Shingo Prize for Manufacturing Excellence (shortly after Bob left). Bob is co-author of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (McGraw-Hill), a 2012 USA Best Book Awards finalist. His writing has been featured in or reviewed by Fast Company, American Management Association, Center for Creative Leadership, Leader to Leader, Leadership Excellence, CNBC Bullish on Books, Investor’s Business Daily, and more. Bob has taught leadership at the University of Denver and Colorado Mountain College and is Chairman Emeritus of the Vail Leadership Institute. Bob has served on the boards of and consults with numerous businesses and community organizations. He is a Baker Scholar graduate of the Harvard Business School, a magna cum laude graduate of Princeton University, and served as an officer in the U.S. Army.

About the Author

Gregg Vanourek teaches at the Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship and  is founder of Far Horizon, a training enterprise that connects the realms of leadership, entrepreneurship, and personal development. Vanourek is coauthor of three influential books: Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (published by McGraw-Hill and a 2012 USA Best Book Awards finalist), Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (Jossey-Bass), and Charter Schools in Action: Renewing Public Education (Princeton University Press). His writing has been featured in or reviewed by Fast Company, BusinessWeek, U.S. News & World Report, New York Times, Leader to Leader, Publishers Weekly, Entrepreneur, American Management Association, Center for Creative Leadership, and more.

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