3 Things the Best Leaders Do

Steven Hopper
Mar 7 · 5 min read
Photo by KOBU Agency on Unsplash

Many great leaders assume that by investing their time and attention on each individual of their team, they can drive their people — and, ultimately, their organization — to success.

For this reason, leaders tend to focus a lot of time and attention on identifying the right values to support their mission and vision for the company. These leaders translate their values into the selective traits and behaviors that their people must exude in order to fit into their company’s culture.

In addition, great leaders relentlessly protect their organization by sorting through, filtering out, hiring, training and promoting the people they feel best align with their values and goals.

They do this by using performance evaluations to measure their people against a rigorous set of standards and offer them feedback to overcome their weaknesses. The leaders set high expectations and demand that everyone in the same position produce the same outcomes.

This probably sounds like something that strong leaders do, right? In reality, this line of thinking is how great leaders fall short of becoming the best leaders.

But why?

Because the best leaders recognize that it’s not about driving conformity to specific standards in order to create a thriving organizational culture.

As noted in a Forbes article,

“The biggest reason is that everybody is managing the wrong thing. They’re focusing on individual performance when they should be focusing on team performance.”

In fact, when leaders focus so much time and attention on each individual and how he or she measures up against others in their organization, they fail to recognize each person’s unique talents and, by extension, actually create dysfunctional teams.

Many leaders falsely believe that uniform standards drive the highest outcomes and profits. Instead, such blanket performance measures produce the opposite result — they force people to cover up and hide their authentic selves in order to fit in.

The best leaders take a different approach. Rather than design a one-size-fits-all culture that asks people to conform to the same standards, the best leaders start by seeking out a diverse and unique teams of people who together form their organization’s optimal, one-of-a-kind culture.

Here’s how the best leaders create high-performing teams:

1. They capitalize on individual strengths

“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” — Phil Jackson

The best leaders are like the best sports team coaches. They look at their organization as a whole team and understand what strengths each player brings to the team.

Businesses require a wide variety of technical, functional, leadership, business and interpersonal skills. The best leaders understand that no one can be great at doing everything within the organization. What matters most is finding people who can full a specific role better than anybody else and letting them shine at it.

The best leaders don’t focus on driving conformity to standards and performance measures. They don’t focus on weaknesses and corrective feedback. What sets the best leaders apart from the rest is that they do the opposite — they focus on the uniqueness of each individual and recognize each individual’s contribution to the team’s success.

This not only benefits the company, but it especially benefits the people, because we all want to feel successful and like we possess a special something that others on our team need from us.

In fact, as a recent Gallup report showed,

“Employees who say they use their strengths every day are 8 percent more productive and 15 percent less likely to quit their jobs. They are also more likely to strongly agree that they like what they do each day. When people are untethered from management, their strengths can rise.”

The best leaders know that to build the best teams they have to elevate each individual’s strengths.

2. They seek out diversity

“Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.” — Amy Poehler

This is yet another area where the best leaders outshine all the others. Great leaders recognize the strengths of their people and nurture high-performing teams in their organization, but the best leaders consider themselves part of the high-performing team.

The best leaders are critically self-aware — they take advantage of their strengths and humble admit their weaknesses. In this way, they seek out teammates with diverse perspectives and talents to balance out their own deficiencies.

Though this sounds logical enough and pretty straightforward in execution, in practice it’s actually quite hard to do. This is because all humans are naturally drawn to people like themselves — with the same interests, talents, and opinions.

It’s what psychologist refer to as similarity-attraction bias. Admitting this bias is the first step toward correcting it, but many leaders aren’t willing to acknowledge this publicly.

The best leaders, however, openly recognize their inherent biases and actively work to overcome them.

So instead of trying to make all the decisions and control every aspect of their business, they focus on their own strengths and seek out a diverse team to support them. They don’t surround themselves with people who have the exact same strengths and opinions, but rather seek people who complement their abilities and at the same time challenge their decisions.

3. They focus on outcomes, not jobs

“Too many companies believe people are interchangeable. Truly gifted people never are. They have unique talents. Such people cannot be forced into roles they are not suited for, nor should they be. Effective leaders allow great people to do the work they were born to do.” — Warren Bennis

Most leaders think of their company in terms of fixed roles and responsibilities. They see the jobs-to-be-done, instead of the people who perform those jobs.

This is a limiting mindset, however, because of course no two people are alike. Because of this fact, it becomes all too easy for leaders to get frustrated when two people performing the same job don’t produce the same results.

The best leaders, however, don’t think in terms of fixed roles and responsibilities. They think about the qualities and skills of the individual team members and how they can drive outcomes utilizing this unique set of attributes.

In fact, as Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall highlight this fallacy in their book Nine Lies About Work, and instead give leaders the following recommendation,

“Define the outcomes you want from your team and its members, and then look for each person’s strength signs to figure out how each person can reach those outcomes most efficiently, most amazingly, most creatively, and most joyfully. The moment you realize you’re in the outcomes business is the moment you turn each person’s uniqueness from a bug into a feature.”

Instead of feeling frustrated by inherent differences, the best leaders know how to embrace these qualities to produce higher outcomes for the team. They are able to re-define jobs within their company so that people feel empowered to contribute most successfully on the team.

Steven Hopper

Written by

Stories of a former high school teacher, now business consultant. Husband. Travel fanatic. Obsessed coffee drinker. And all-around nerd.

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