Predictable Success

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Six steps to becoming a performance-based leader

We’ve been looking at how over-achievers often under-perform. Yesterday we saw the three main reasons why this happens.Today I want to pass on to you the six things I’ve seen achievement-based leaders do to successfully transition to performance-based leadership. The first three practices set up a safe environment for you to work in, and the second three are best practices for you to use:

1. Get a mentor
Trust me, if you are an achievement-based leader, no matter how much you believe you intellectually ‘get it’, you won’t make the transition to performance-based leadership without seeing it modeled in action.

Find someone you know and trust who is a performance-based leader and ask them to mentor you. At the least, this should mean spending 40 to 90 minutes a month in one-on-one observation, discussion and role play, and at best having them sit in on actual management sessions and giving you real-time feedback. Stick with it for at least 6 months, preferably 9.

2. Get a safety word
The best feedback you can get during the transition process is from your trusted team. (If you don’t have a trusted team, you have deeper issues than we can solve in this particular post). They know you’re an achievement-based leader, believe me, and they know better than anyone when you’re doing it most.

Explain to them what it is you’re trying to achieve (point them to this series of articles, if you like), agree a safety word they can use when they believe you’re ‘over-achieving’ at the the expense of performance, and allow them 3, or 5, or 10 (whatever you’re comfortable with) opportunities to use it per week (or day, or month – again, there are no rules. Do whatever you’re comfortable with).

When they do use the safety word, make sure to have them fully explain to you what prompted it. You’ll be surprised how often your assumptions are wrong.

3. Get an outlet
This will be tough. One of the reasons you’re an achievement-based leader is because you’re highly competitive. It will be next to impossible to make the transition to performance-based leadership without feeling frustrated, at times beyond belief.

Find something at which you can be simply out-and-out competitive and achievement-focussed, and use that as your stress reliever. Whether it’s squash, or golf, or crosswords or macrame, it doesn’t matter – just make sure it’s something you know will give you an outlet for your frustrations.

4. Learn your point of endorphin release
We saw yesterday that for achievement-based leaders their key weakness is the inability to allow optimal solutions to emerge over time (not by magic, of course – by discussion and exploration).

In my experience this is not primarily an issue of impatience, per se, but rather a need to get to the point of endorphin rush. Rather like a runner’s high, for most of us there’s a point in the decision-making process when we feel most rewarded. For an achievement-based leader, this might be when (literally) stroking an item off a to-do list, or (literally) putting a date in a diary, or (literally) closing a file, or (literally) using a specific form of words (such as “OK, that’s decided then“).

Whatever or wherever your point of endorphin rush is, you have one, somewhere, and you need to know what it is. Because wherever the endorphin rush lurks for you, your need to get to that point is driving you to achievement-based decision making.

So watch yourself as you make decisions over the next month. Make a note of when the literal point of endorphin release is for you. (I know one person, oft-mentioned in this blog, who will actually write things she has already completed on to a list – just so she can mark them ‘complete’.) It’s not difficult to do, and knowing what or when it is will enable you to take the next step.

5. Substitute with a delayed reward
Once you know where your endorphin rush lurks, you need to replace it with a delayed reward.

Choose something simple that you really enjoy doing: eating chocolate, a hug, random interweb browsing, a nap, the next move on Words With Friends – whatever works for you – and consciously substitute it for the ‘old’ endorphin rush…but delay it.

So for example, if you have discovered your achievement-based endorphin rush happens at the point of striking something off a list (or closing out a meeting, or sending an email, or editing a mind-map, or just making the darn decision in your head), when you reach that point, instead of doing the thing that would usually trigger the endorphins, hold off on that activity, and instead schedule your delayed reward appropriately far in advance.

(Use your judgement: a long- or medium-term decision might warrant a 2 week or 1-month delay. A shorter term decision might only warrant a one- or two-day delay, a snap decision might only get a 30 minute or 1 hour delay.)

6. Optimize the decision in the gap you just created
Once you’ve time-shifted the point of ‘decision gratification’, you will find you’ll naturally seek out ways to make a better, performance-based decision.

This stage – ‘working the gap‘ as one of my clients calls it – seems like the most mysterious, but is in fact the simplest of all.

The reason it’s simple is that achievement-based leaders aren’t dumb. They possess the same overall skill, experience and knowledge levels as performance-based leaders. It’s just that historically they’ve had their decision-making process hijacked by the achievement-based endorphin rush (see Daniel Goleman’s ‘Amygdala Hijack‘ for a similar concept).

Once the ‘hijack’ is nullified with the delayed reward and some time opens up, it usually isn’t hard for the formerly achievement-based leader to find ways (through collaboration, exploration, dialog etc) to make a better decision.

Try this six-step process. Tell me if it works for you. Already done or seen something similar? Comments? Observations? Share them below. I’ll write you back.