Leading high-performance teams: My six guiding principles

Secret sauce to setting the fundamentals so you and your teams can thrive.

Successfully building and leading high-performance teams doesn’t have to be incredibly hard. But it does take a personal commitment and a willingness to learn from both success and failure.

Having been in leadership positions for the past 20 years of my 25-year career in IT, I have seen all sorts of teams. Some were high performance and collaborative under one leader, only to turn into a mediocre group of people loosely working together under a different leader.

What I can tell you is that performance is always a reflection of leadership, and leadership is all about establishing a strong foundation for a team to succeed.

Part of that foundation is to ensure diversity is prioritised. The link between high-performance and diversity is indisputable. People from different backgrounds bring innovation, creativity, and fresh perspectives.

Another foundational aspect is to ensure goals and metrics of success are clearly defined, agreed and attainable. Everyone on the team must believe in the mission and their part in achieving it.

And finally, it’s critical to have a management system that tracks and benchmarks the goals and incremental achievements to the defined success metrics. Having mechanisms in place to enable accountability will lead to sharper focus, individual ownership and accountability.

With the foundation set, there are a few guiding principles that – while I am far from having mastered – I am constantly striving towards:

1. Inspire instead of drive

Having the formal authority to make final decisions in the team is important but not enough. Strong inspirational leadership creates energy and enthusiasm and builds a sense of purpose within the team. Strong leaders are resilient, they build trust and resolve hidden conflicts – even if it means making difficult or unpopular decisions.

2. Communicate, communicate and communicate
And if in doubt, communicate some more. Communicate your team’s vision and objectives repeatedly to keep them focused. Be transparent and don’t leave any chance for rumours. Keep information simple, frequent and consistent. When you think you have over communicated, it’s probably just about right.

3. Trust and respect
Encourage open dialogue and constructive problem-solving even if it leads to disagreement. Be honest and authentic, giving feedback immediately and frequently along the way. Don’t paint rosy pictures when things are not great and share unpleasant news openly and directly.

4. Be humble
Recognize that a leader does not necessarily know how to do everything. Give individuals room to present themselves in their unique and diverse ways, to grow and to excel. Appreciate different approaches that may lead to different – and often better – results.

5. Have a vision
Clearly defined goals and measuring success is important. But equally important is having a strong vision that binds the team to a shared and compelling sense of direction. High-performance teams support each other and go the extra mile because they are motivated by a bigger picture.

6. Recognize and reward
Monetary rewards are important, but recognition can be more impactful. Don’t just celebrate the big win once every six months; instead recognize hard work, innovation, team effort and smaller milestones. Find individual ways of thanking your team members, taking into consideration how they want to be recognized. It could be public recognition, a little thank you note or giving a simple inexpensive gift. My goal is to allow my team members to shine and get public recognition before I do.

On that note, I would like to recognize and thank my team for their engagement, commitment and hard work. They are a great example of what is possible when we roll up our sleeves, put our minds together and achieve winning results. As we move forward in our transformations, we must remember that true success only comes when the collective mission and goals are accomplished.


Sonja Aboulez
Sonja Aboulez is Vice President, Digital Sales for EMEA and is based at CA Technologies…


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