10 Traits of High-Performance Leaders

Achieving high performance in tough times is a serious challenge small business owners face. The ultimate goal may be extraordinary business
October 07, 2009

Achieving high performance in tough times is a serious challenge small business owners face. The ultimate goal may be extraordinary business performance, but you can still get comfortable and slip into mediocrity. To obliterate status quo, do you have what it takes to become a high-performance leader?  Ten traits characterize the people who do.

1. Positive attitude combined with energy!
According to Rosabeth Moss Kanter, "Some people become leaders no matter what their chosen path because their positive energy is so uplifting. Even in tough times, they always find a way." And the nice thing about this form of energy is that it is potentially abundant, renewable and free, says Kanter. Focusing on the good in any situation doesn't mean you're naive. it means you don't want to waste time on negative thinking. Taking the constructive approach - seeing what your options and resources are, and making use of them fast - will always get you somewhere.

2.   The two Cs:  Courage and Confidence.
Courage:  To grow, you must face painful issues, conquer your fears and confront adversity head-on.  More often than not it can take more courage to walk away from a situation than to leap into the fray. Moving forward at any pace when you're dealing with the unknown takes courage, so apply it in everything you do.

Confidence:  Even if you don't know what you're doing, act as if you do.  Ever hear the expression “Fake it until you make it”? According to Wikipedia, it means to “imitate confidence so that as the confidence produces success, it will generate real confidence.” Some folks live by it.

3.  Discipline.
You've got to be organized, detail-oriented and a self-starter.  When you're carving out your own path, you can't expect round-the-clock guidance, so don't rely on anyone except yourself.  Creating disciplined business processes as well as clear goals and objectives are vital to track and to understand eventual success.  Take the recent movie “
The Providence Effect,about Providence St. Mel School in Chicago, where President Paul Adams III has managed to break the cycle of poverty and give poor children the same opportunities as wealthy ones by practicing one old-fashioned high-performance trait: Discipline.  Without it, he says, you can’t get a student’s attention.

4.   Imagination. 
There are people who have an imaginative scope and natural creativity, but to be creative in every situation takes an unbelievable amount of energy.  Imagination, creativity and innovation are all vital 
to thriving in your business, especially now more than ever during turbulent economic times. Creative genius Walt Disney said:  “I can never stand still. I must explore and experiment. I am never satisfied with my work. I resent the limitations of my own imagination.”

5.   Initiative. The more ambitious and innovative you are, the greater the need to take inspired action and make something happen.  Without initiative, ideas go nowhere.

6.  Emotional intelligence.
You can be smart as a whip but if you don’t know how to handle tough conversations with sensitivity, you won’t last long with colleagues, employees or peers.  Everyone is looking for authenticity, transparency and purity of the heart and mind.  When it comes to life’s sticky moments, get unstuck.  Learn a different way to be smart.  Author Daniel Goleman gets it.  Do you?

7.  Patience. 
In the global marketplace, pursuits take time, and your patience — the ability to endure under difficult circumstances — will be tested time and again.  Riding out the highs and lows of running a business leaves an indelible mark on your mind about how you must learn to practice patience.  It is a virtue.

8.  Perseverance. 
Keeping up the struggle when there is no tangible benefit in sight takes perseverance.  Think along the lines of one of my favorite quotes by William James: “Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they've got a second.”  Isn’t that the truth?

9.  Purpose. 
Where are we going?  How do we get there?  Stick to what you stand for, get everybody on board and don't forget that you will have to face yourself and live with your decisions every day.  Take a time-out right now and ask yourself: What’s my meaningful sense of direction for the company, with precise strategic goals that can be measured?

10.   Trust. 
To become an effective, high-performance leader you must earn the trust and confidence of others.  Once trust is established, keep it, maintain it and guard it because it is a gift that should never be taken for granted.  To foster trust, meet with clients, employees, colleagues and other key influencers.  Face-to-face contact is important — it builds trust.  Show people you are paying attention and that you care deeply about the health of your relationship.  Highlight best practices, be honest in your dealings and do what you say you are going to do, no ands, ifs or buts.

Becoming a high-performance leader doesn't happen overnight.  It's a slow process that requires thought, discipline and lots of hard work. A little dose of humor helps, too.  Small businesses have always been known to combine a vision of the seemingly impossible with a plan to shape the future and make things happen.  Put these 10 traits into action, and you could fulfill your own version of the ideal, fully developed high-performance leader.

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About the Author:  Global business expert Laurel Delaney is the founder of GlobeTrade.com (a Global TradeSource, Ltd. company).  She also is the creator of “Borderbuster,” an e-newsletter, and The Global Small Business Blog, all highly regarded for their global small business coverage.  You can reach Delaney at ldelaney@globetrade.com or follow her on Twitter @LaurelDelaney.