There are two ways to create a top-performing team. You can try to transfer, fire, and hire your way to a team that, on paper, looks great. Or you can be a leader. High-performance teams aren’t clobbered and pieced together; they are forged. And if you’re doing your job effectively, any human soul can be properly forged in your furnace—if you follow three proven strategies.
Consider this example: Say there’s a member of your sales team who’s underperforming and threatening a project’s success. Sound familiar?
This is where you make your first choice. You can judge this person on his numbers and throw him into a performance review (and an eventual frustrated exit), or you can think of him as an emotionally driven human being and talk to him.
You decide to talk to him. Good choice.
Strategy #1: Talk First—and Ask Questions.
When you talk to him, you ask why he’s struggling. This is important: always ask questions first. Your job is not to force success; it’s to find that something greater—that spark that lights a fire—which will leverage people into pursuing success whether you ask them to or not.
During your talk, you discover this employee just found out his wife is pregnant, and he’s terrified about the prospect of providing for a growing family. Here you make your second choice.
Strategy #2: Provide a Path.
The average HR manager might listen, nod, empathize and encourage the teammate to keep his head up because losing his job or missing a bonus will only make things harder. But kindness is not enough to give this person leverage. Being nice is not enough to unlock high performance.
Instead, you look him in the eye and make him a promise. You tell him you’re going to make him a plan. This plan will include performance milestones, intense goals, and regular performance reviews. If he hits those goals, you promise him you’ll do everything possible to secure a raise and plenty of paternity leave to take care of his new child.
That teammate is going to leave the office ready to run through a wall for you. Now, instead of just feeling heard, he feels empowered. You haven’t solved his problem for him. You’ve offered him a path to the life he wants for himself and the people he cares about.
Strategy #3: Leverage Human Emotion.
Leveraging human emotion is the most powerful thing a leader can do to forge a high-performance team. To do this, though, you need to understand that humans, at their core, are far more emotional than they are practical. It sounds counterintuitive, but your time is better spent engaging the emotions of your team than appealing to their sense of strategy or professional intuition.
This ability is what makes the difference between a team that can hit a goal and a team that can pull off the impossible. If all you can leverage is your team’s minds, time, or bank accounts, their objectives at that level will always be out of your reach.
It all boils down to this: you sit your team members down, you ask them who they want to be, and then you create the opportunity for them to be what they want. That’s what leveraging emotion is all about. Give people not money, time off, nor a kind shoulder to lean on. Give them purpose.
Your job, despite your title, is not to manage people. It’s to discover, champion, and maintain that fire that keeps all members of a team leveraged and managing themselves. High-performance teams are made up exclusively of emotionally leveraged people who are determined to achieve the “something greater” offered to them by a high-performance leader. And that leader can be you.
About the author: Jason Caldwell is the founder of Latitude 35, a leadership training firm that operates around the globe. He works with top organizations—including Nike, Booking.com, Columbia Business School, and the Haas School of Business—and delivers speaking programs to packed crowds at Fortune 500 companies and universities worldwide. A professional adventure racer, Caldwell currently holds over a dozen world records across five continents. His new book is Navigating the Impossible: Build Extraordinary Teams and Shatter Expectations.