Don’t Put Your Career on Autopilot:
Steps to Your Next Level of Performance

By Joe Takash

If you’re in the sales or service business, did you know consistent research reports that 97 percent of unhappy customers don’t complain? Or, if you’re in a leadership position, did you know that the higher you go in an organization, the less honest feedback you are likely to receive from your internal clients or employees? This frightening data shows that you could be under-performing, and not even know it.

Even the most talented professionals can operate on “autopilot,” unaware of their impact. They may work hard - just not necessarily smart. Oftentimes, seven to 12 tips are not necessary for dramatic performance change, particularly when two simple steps can make a profound difference. A prime example of this is Maria, the mother of three children and a branch manager for a large bank.

At home, Maria dives into the affairs of her kids with fervor, fully engaged in homework, soccer games, science projects and bake sales. What her kids love most is her spirit. Her laugh is infectious and she smiles frequently. She is consistently positive and always encourages them to believe in themselves, take chances and to try new things. Maria is a great mother.

At work, however, Maria struggles in leading people. She enjoys her job, is educated and intelligent. Yet, while her employees believe she is honest and hard working, the team’s performance and individual morale is shaky. She is viewed as “guarded” and in constant “work mode,” creating an atmosphere that is sterile and awkward. Maria is at a loss for why this is and is frustrated because she is highly driven to succeed.

Maria is great at home but is not elevating to the next level of performance at work. People at the bank believe that she lacks self-awareness, but they are wrong. What she lacks are two critical steps to get to that next level of performance.

Step One: Self-Knowledge and finding the “why” Many of us are self-aware, but we lack self-knowledge. What’s the difference? Self-awareness is knowing what you do right or wrong. Self-knowledge is knowing what you do and why you do it. The difference between these two creates breakthrough opportunities to remove barriers that may be success stoppers.

The fastest, most efficient approach to gain higher self-knowledge is to constantly discover the “why.” However, there is a caveat. People are generally uncomfortable with providing critical feedback and most subordinates may never be brutally honest with their managers. Consequently, many leaders keep achieving mediocre results by doing the same thing.

Back to Maria. She knows that her relationship with her family is well because there is a trusting and open atmosphere of support, encouragement and love. So she has knowledge of the “why” factor which garners a successful outcome. Work, however, is a different story. She is aware that morale and performance must be improved but because she comes across as non-approachable, she’s unlikely to get others to provide helpful advice. Maria needs to discover the “why.”

Getting objective feedback: Perhaps if Maria had a 360-degree assessment done - when she is evaluated anonymously by her peers, superiors and direct reports - she would learn the truth. Maybe she would discover that the smile, the enthusiasm and the spirit she has at home is not brought to work. She’ll likely discover that her “business only” attitude stymies her work environment and puts her employees on edge, which inhibits their performance and potential.

When leaders become approachable, teams typically communicate better, trust and loyalty is higher and performance improves because an open atmosphere is created, one conducive to allowing mistakes and fostering a stronger team dynamic. This could help Maria greatly.

Possessing self-knowledge is crucial, but it’s only the first step. The proof of higher performance requires the execution of outcome-focused action.

Step Two: Results Based Behavior: If behavior doesn’t change for the better, results don’t get better. The challenge here is that many people are not sure of the right application and, so even if Maria discovers the “why,” she needs a clear roadmap with behaviors to build her leadership and team performance. Specific results-based behavior for her might include:

  • Have regularly scheduled individual staff meetings and commit to them as you would client appointments.

  • Ask staff members what their goals are and how to reach them. Be sure to capture this in writing for retention and follow-up.

  • Project the enthusiasm and positive spirit that you bring at home to the workplace. This should be reflected in your tone of voice, smile and how you greet others.

  • Put a post-it note on your computer to thank or recognize team members at least twice a week.

  • Set deadline-driven goals and express to staff that you must all work together to hold each other accountable.

Because formal schooling usually lacks the relationship and leadership skills instrumental for professional success, the instructional manual for how to create a positive working environment, build team trust or recognize employees is often underdeveloped. Determining absolute behaviors to get results requires being a student of self-development and an interviewer and listener of others.

We all want to “own” our successful accomplishments; these two steps can take you to your next level - if you are willing to dig deep. They are simple in theory, but also require openness, consistency and implementation.

Constant improvement and reinventing yourself is what life is about and, in an unstable economy, it may be the best business investment you can make.

Read other articles and learn more about Joe Takash.

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