9 Leadership Imperatives for High Performance

Prof. Drikus Kriek

It is arguably a period in world history that puts greater demands on leaders than most previous times. Think about geo-political challenges and the demands it puts on political leadership. After Covid many leaders also realised that the world is more brittle and the pandemic may left with anxiety and fear. In addition, business leaders face the challenges that new technologies may bring and how they would deal with disruption and changes in the world of work. One may also argue that the mere notion of a heroic leader is challenged and different sets of leader attributes and character traits are required to lead effectively.

It is in this context that leaders need to rethink their own leadership responsibilities. Focus is increasingly on how leaders co-create motivational mindspaces wherein leadership happens. These contexts requires certain conditions to manifest to ensure members of teams and followers enter into these spaces and find sufficiently meaningful in the leadership moments to perform optimally. Here we mention some of the tasks leaders have to execute to ensure optimal conditions are in place for high performance. These include:

Ensure interdependence

Interdependence refers to the degree to which members of a team depend on each other to reach the team's goals. It is circular in that the team depends on contributions from individuals, while simultaneously members require assistance from the team to complete individual tasks. A sense of interdependence exists where the team understands that it will not be successful without the particular contribution of each individual. It also prevails where individual members are aware they cannot complete their tasks or reach requisite goals if they do not get support from others on the team

Foster nurturance

This condition indicates the experience members of a team have that they are cared for and valued for who they are. It indicates to them that there is concern for their own personal circumstances and that they are valued as individuals. Nurturance emerges through the connections between members that demonstrate to them that the team is a caring space allowing each to be themself. Nurturance involves care but also implies the manner that this allows opportunity for members to develop, grow, and to be challenged.

Articulate a story of possibility

This is most often reflected in the team's dream. A group of people becomes a team when its individual members join together to pursue an aim they all desire- to fulfil a particular dream. There are an endless number of aims that but for each team it should be unique to define its own Dream. No team can perform optimally or expect members to be motivated without a clear Dream.

Create psychological safety

Safety refers to the shared belief that it is safe to take the risk of being vulnerable in a team. This allows members opportunity to experiment, offer their views freely, make mistakes, be curious, request information, voice unease or lack of understanding, be creative, and offer their ideas and solutions. Four components of safety can be identified, namely freedom, trust, clarity and fairness.

  •      Freedom is a prerequisite for safety because members must feel free to contribute and to share their ideas. It is based on the premise that people will not be rejected for their ideas, views or opinions. It allows members to be "wrong" or at odds with that of other stakeholders’ beliefs.
  •     Trust can be defined as the willingness to be vulnerable by putting one (i.e. the trustor) at the mercy of another person (i.e. the trustee) even when the outcome is uncertain. It is based on the expectation that the other will perform an action that the trustor regards as important and that this action will be to the benefit of the trustor. The expectation is that the trustee will act benevolently- in particular where the trustor doesn't have the ability to monitor or control the trustee.
  •     Clarity. Safety in a team is increased by when uncertainty is removed. Clarity of role, expectations, task responsibilities, performance norms, interpersonal relationships and on the mandate of the team ensures increased levels of clarity.
  •      Fairness. In a team people value being treated fairly. This is built through the experience members have of the levels fairness, equity and justice operative in the team. These elements build safety because team members evaluate outcomes they receive from their efforts in relation to what they put into the team.


Direct progress

Progress relates to the momentum members of a team experience en route to reaching a meaningful goal. As a motivational condition three dimensions of a team's progress are critical, namely its development stages; measurements of progress; and momentum along the way. Firstly, teams generally progress through anticipated stages and have to complete development tasks associated with each stage. These stages can be mapped on a development journey. Secondly, its necessary for a team to know what to measure for members to ascertain where they are on the team's developmental path and to determine its progress. Finally, a team needs to ensure it maintains momentum towards its Dream.

Ensure internal and external alignment

For a team to perform optimally, alignment is critical because any team operates in a context and for  a context. Members need to feel that they align with the team's internal and external contexts. As a motivational condition alignment helps members to feel that they fit, the team is balanced and that they deliver on stakeholder expectations. Thus, a team has to find its place in larger systems but also needs to calibrate itself internally to align members with their place in the team.

Build cohesion and a sense of belonging

Cohesion is the collective sense of belonging that exists within the team. It refers to a sense of rapport, camaraderie or we-ness. It is the invisible ingredient binding the team together, builds solidarity, and creates a sense of community. Cohesion increases when members appreciate each other’s contributions and when they enjoy being in each other’s company. It reflects the desire of the members to stick together, to remain part of the team and to stay united in the pursuit of the team's Dream.


Empower members in the team

Empowerment refers to the belief members have that they are competent to do what is required- in particular in their ability to deliver on the team's mandate. It refers to a sense of freedom and autonomy members feel to execute their tasks. Empowerment stems from a team’s need to be in control of its own destiny and to be involved in efforts to fulfil its Dream. When a team is empowered, members are more proactive; they show more initiative; and are more likely to take action.

Create meaningful moments

Meaning refers to humankind's universal and ubiquitous quest to find answers to life's ultimate questions; understand our experiences or to look for patterns to make sense out of what we see around us. A team is also a setting where such quest could be pursued- particularly because as being on a team can be meaningful to its members through its purpose, individual purpose, drivers and impact.

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