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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #138: Leading High Performance Teams

May 27, 2021
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #138: Leading High Performance Teams

John Maxwell teaches that everything rises and falls on leadership. If you hope to have a high-performance team, you need to be a high-performance leader. Today, Chris and Perry discuss what a leader’s role is in leading a high-performance team.

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Read the Transcript:

Perry Holley:    Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator.

Chris Goede:     And I’m Chris Goede, Vice President with John Maxwell Company. Welcome and thank you for joining. Perry and I were just having a conversation about how much we really enjoy doing this. But more importantly, how much we enjoy hearing from those that are listening and the impact that they’re having, whether they’re at the gym, whether they’re on their walk. And so, man, we’re grateful for those that are listening to our podcasts. We enjoy getting on here and going back and forth. And so we hope it’s adding value to you.

Just as a reminder before we get started, please visit There you can learn more about the 5 Levels of Leadership or the 360° Leader, which is really the base and the foundation of everything that Perry and I talk about on our podcast. And also Perry develops a learner guide that you can follow along with, including this episode and every episode. And so it’s just a great little resource for you.

And if you have a comment or question or maybe even a future topic or a suggestion of a title. For those that listen often know that I give Perry a hard time about his title.

Perry Holley:    No, I don’t want any suggestions.

Chris Goede:     He said he doesn’t need any help. Yeah. So please visit there and you can leave your contact information. We’d love to get back in touch with you. Well, speaking of titles, today’s topic is titled Leading High Performance Teams. Now, what I love about this is it’s not an overly catchy title, but man, when you say that as a leader, when you say high performance, I immediately just kind of gravitate to that. And so when you think about a high performance team, you think about those that are highly skilled people that are working in cross-functional teams and who focused on achieving a common business goal.

In other words, it’s those that consistently produce results. The first thing I thought about was the NASCAR business. Now I’m not a huge NASCAR fan or I wasn’t, but I am. We built a relationship with one of our clients in Hendrick Automotive Group. And part of that is now on Sundays, I find myself rooting for one of their four teams or all four of their teams. And when I think about what you just laid out here for us, highly skill people working in cross-functional areas, I think about the pit crew. I think about the driver, I think about the crew chief, and all of them at the highest level have to be contributing cross-functionally, be highly skilled in order to be high performance.

So that was the first thing that came to mind. I think we’re going to dive into maybe even what that looks like. Maybe not into NASCAR, but when it comes to leadership.

Perry Holley:    Yeah, for sure. And when I thought about high performance teams, it’s really about sharing values, vision, a common objective. They’re really known for displaying a very high of communication and collaboration. As you said, they deliver the goods. I mean, they really have results that show that. The question I really want to explore with you today is what is a leader’s role in leading a high performance team and how much meat can we put on that? Because I think everybody thinks they have a high performance team, but really what is your role in making sure you do?


Chris Goede:     Yeah, I think that’s a good question. And my first thought that I have is not one that we’re just kind of defaulting to and say, “Oh yeah, the leader’s job is always to kind of cast the vision and set the direction.” But remember we have to start, we have to have a great start, a good beginning. And I don’t want to underestimate the fact that if you want a high performance team, you have to set that at the very beginning when it comes to vision and direction.

You and I were on a call yesterday and it was a fantastic call and this brilliant leader and this lady that was leading different teams and has a ton of experience, both in the private and public sectors said something that just kind of captured my attention. And I made a note of it and it comes up in today’s conversation where when you’re leading a team and you’re setting a vision, make sure that you talk about the fact that this is not just a quota we’re going after it.

It’s just not a unit, right? This is a goal as a team. This is you cast the vision of a goal as a team. Not that we’re just going after a number of units sold number whatever your KPI might be. And she began to unpack the difference between a goal and a quota. And it just kind of it captured my attention. I thought, “Man, that’s it.” As I’m casting vision, as I’m setting the direction for the team, it’s that mindset that she was talking about that we need to set right out of the shoot, no matter what it is.

The other thing that comes to mind is John’s Law of Navigation. And as leaders if you haven’t, just Google Law of Navigation, it’s going to come up. A lot of people have taught lessons about it. But I think the key in the Law of Navigation and I wrote down two thoughts for us today as we begin thinking about this. As you set vision and direction for your team, then I want you to make sure you reflect on the past, both of your team’s success, your success as a leader, but then also the failures that you’ve had.

And I want you to just kind of reflect on that and do that with your leadership team as you begin to set this because there’ll be lessons learned that you guys will be able to adapt as you become a high performing team. The other thing was and I hear John say this, Mark Cole, our CEO says it all the time. And it’s a little awkward for me to say, but we as leaders should see more and before everybody else on our team. And when you think about more and before, then that is what you’ve got to be thinking about as your team as you set that vision.

I saw or I read this article, this illustration about vision one time and it said, “Yeah, listen, you just don’t go to the airport.” You and I visit the airport often as we go and visit clients and just go and they say, “Hey, where would you want to buy a plane ticket?” Well, wait a minute. That was back when we bought plane tickets at the airport. Today we do it at the click of a mouse, but we just don’t click the mouse and say, “Give me a plane ticket” and wherever that plane ticket takes us, we go. We know where we’re going. We set that goal. And so as leaders we need to be thinking about that. So that was probably more than you asked for right out of the shoot for, but those are things that came to mind with that question.

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Perry Holley:    I definitely agree with setting the course and having the vision, but also I just told you I was reading Simon Sinek’s Infinite Game and really about what’s the cause and so really knowing what it is. We’re not just going for the quota, we are going to get that, but we’re going for something bigger than that, and the leader sees that.

The second thing I would say that really jumped out to me was the ability of that leader to connect and develop influence with each person on the team. We teach this a lot in the 5 Levels of Leadership, but I don’t think you’re going to have a high performance team if everyone on that team is not bought into you and bought into that cause, and what you’re doing. I personally feel if you practice authentic leadership and you have buy-in from the members of the team, you remove a lot of the barriers that come up too where teams can usually struggle when it comes to delivering high performance.

This I think we just talked over the past few weeks about inclusive leadership and that diversity and inclusion, but the inclusion piece of that being so important about making people on the team know that they’re welcomed, they’re safe, they belong, they’re valued. They’re on the inside. They’re with you. And when you do this as a leader through that connecting, I believe you’d kind of remove these barriers and really free people to deliver high performance.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. Listen, everybody that’s on our team is there for a reason. We hired them because something about their experience, something about them, their values, whatever it might be intrigued us enough to say, “Yes, I absolutely want you to be a part of this team.” I think oftentimes why teams don’t function at the highest level because then we get them in our team and we squelch any voice they may have. To your point, we have talked a lot about this inclusive leadership. We don’t include them or we’ve shut them down so many times they don’t even offer the opportunity to do that.

And what comes to mind here is going back to the basics of what we teach in the 5 Levels of Leadership. As a leader, you need to understand that your relationship, your influence with each one of those members on your leadership team or the team itself, we’re talking about high performance teams is different and we need to lead them accordingly. And so when you think about high performance teams, you’re like, “Man, what do my team meetings look like?” And yes, I want you to be thinking about that, but I also want you to be thinking about what does my influence look like with them on a day-to-day basis?

Because what you do with your team members on a daily basis is going to drive the behavior of what happens in that team room and the goal that you guys are going after. And we often talk about around here, even John comes to the table and it’s like, “Look, it’s not my idea that wins. It’s the best idea. And everybody’s around the table for a reason. And we need you to bring your expertise.”

I think a lot back to your comment about when you were young in career and up-and-coming, your leader said, “Now listen, Perry, if you and I have the same idea and the same answer, one of us does it belong here.”

Perry Holley:    Guess who that’s going to be?

Chris Goede:     And yeah, guess who that’s going to be. And so I’m glad you learned that lesson and shared it with our listeners previously. But that’s where when I think about that to your point, man, inclusive leadership is really important when it comes to high performance teams.

Perry Holley:    And it speaks to what we talk about a lot about employee engagement. If you don’t have a fully engaged team, high performance is going to be a stretch. And this whole inclusive thing with me, I think my biggest learning was you have a diverse team. Most of us have a lot of diversity on our teams. But if I, as the leader, am not practicing inclusive behaviors, the term was covering. People were covering who they are or they’re pulling back. They’re trying to be more like you. You’ve lost the leverage of diversity that you had that was going to really add to the high performance, I think.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. Well, listen, let’s move on to number three because you and I can sense that we’re getting wound up and Jake’s going to cut us off here soon. We try to keep this short and to the point, but number three you have for us is for high performance teams is they listen and ask questions. Now I hesitated right before I said the word listening on purpose.

Perry Holley:    You were going to flip it around, weren’t you?

Chris Goede:     Huh? I was thinking about that. But I was thinking about it’s like, “Oh man, do I?” I was convicted by it like listen. My wife says all the time, “I know you hear me, but are you really listening to me?” And you want team members to really learn and listen how others think or even just our relationship or our team that we get to work with. We know because we listen what the reactions and how people are going to think in certain situations, and you need to be doing that.

We also, that leads us down the road of understanding how they solve certain problems or if they do solve them and they just bring them to you instead of solving them. And then how do I rework their thinking in order to begin to solve it before they bring it to you? I think when you understand the dynamics of the team because you’re leading each of them differently outside of the meeting, that will drive the team dynamics and high performance as I mentioned in our last point around the 5 Levels and understanding that.

If you as a leader and then I want to encourage your team members to this, don’t listen and ask questions. You often talk about being curious. Are we really curious why Perry thinks that? Why Jake thinks that? Why Amanda thinks that or is it just noise and then we go right into the direction that we wanted to go to as a leader? I only use that not as personal example or anything. So that’d be number three. Listen and ask questions in order to get a team that’s driving for results.

Perry Holley:    Well, not only is listening one of the best ways to show you value someone, but it also I think sets your team up for long-term success because we talked about this on a previous podcast. When I’m listening to my team, when I’m listening to how they communicate and I’m thinking in the terms of a high performance team and I’m listening, I can get a feel for their thought process. And that opens to me the coaching moment is what’s a leader’s role in a high performance team? I think is to search for these coaching moments that when you listen and ask questions and see how they’re functioning, it opens up all kinds of opportunity for the leader to come in as a coaching leader and add value to them.

Number four as a leader of a high performance team, I absolutely believe this. You’ve got to be able to balance care and candor. And this is one of John’s teachings that with any group I find of any high-performing individuals, there’s going to be people are going to challenge ideas, they’re going to be challenging personalities, challenging opinions. All kinds of opportunities to get sideways and to put up a barrier, but the leader’s going to need to be that voice of reason, maybe even step in to difficult conversations, difficult situations, and speak to directly to those involved. I think we both agree. We err on the side of care.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, absolutely.

Perry Holley:    Candor comes secondary, but if you’re all care and no candor, that’s dysfunctional. And if you all candor, no care, that’s going to put a distance between people. So you’ve got to balance these things.

Chris Goede:     We talk about level two and level three, and you have a natural bent one way or another in the 5 Levels of Leadership and Perry was alluding to us kind of having that natural bent towards the relational side. And often a tendency of those is to want to go on the care side more than the candor. I mentioned at the beginning of our session today about this amazing conversation we had yesterday with a leader. And she said something that was so powerful. And I wrote this down too. She said, man, “You have got to have courageous candor.” I was like, “Oh, that’s good.” Is my candor courageous or is it just candor because it has to be candor? What does that look like?

And so then she went on to say, “If you don’t talk about it, you can’t fix it.” And one of the things I want to add to that is if you don’t talk about it in the moment or right after the moment, either one, you’ll find a reason not to talk about it, which will then drive a lack of performance with your team. But then you may just kind of put it off, right? You’ll be like, “Ah-”

Perry Holley:    You get to it later.

Chris Goede:     You get to it later. So I actually put that in action today. One of our team members was having an email. I saw an email conversation going back and forth with another team member. And it wasn’t necessarily the way that I would’ve handled it or we should have handled it. And talk about the coaching moment. I had to get involved pretty quickly and just said, “Hey, futuristically, this is how this needs to be.” So it was a very direct conversation and it was very candor. It wasn’t extremely courageous. It was just over our communication. But I think it’s so important for you to do it in the here and now.

having a natural level two bent, I would’ve kind of been like, “Oh, well, I’ll talk to that individual about it another time.” I was like, “No, let me go ahead and just kind of hit it right here” because I think it’s so important to be able to have that, both the care and the candor. And we say this that we have an natural care. Those that are listening and there’s maybe more than 50% of you that have a natural candor, right? And you just love it, and every day is a candor. We’d asked you to maybe look at how do I do that with a little bit more care on the side if you truly want to have a high performing team.

Well, that leads us to number five, where a leader of high performance teams must remain personally accountable and then hold others accountable for their work that has been committed. And I love this word accountable. And so many organizations talk to us about, “How do I begin to hold my people more accountable? How do I have a culture?” And that’s everything that Perry and I are talking about. Things we’re talking about will help you improve the leadership culture inside your organization. That’s what we’re called to. That’s what we’re passionate about. And this word accountable and being accountable to your peers, but also to your leader and to those that work for you is so important in having a high performance team, both individually as well as collectively.

I have this little hashtag that I use sometimes with my team where I say individual responsibility, collective pride. All of us have to have our individual responsibilities and we need to hold each other accountable for that. But then also we have to have the collective pride of what our goal is. What is the vision that we set out and how do we make sure that we ultimately know that we’re holding each other accountable? Now listen, leader just because I say we’re holding each other accountable doesn’t mean that ultimately the leader is not responsible.

We had a leadership team this morning the day of this recording and we were talking about bringing different shared services in part into bringing into play into different things that we’re doing. But at the end of the day, the person that is responsible is the person that’s leading that team or leading that solutions group, and we we need to make sure. So I’m not saying we can pass off that side of it, but I think it’s so important to make sure that everybody has accountability and knows what their responsibility is if you want a high-performing team.Perry Holley:    What I see in the high performance teams I’ve been fortunate to be a part of is that accountability is really ownership. They’re not looking for who’s accountable for this. There’s there’s nobody pointing fingers. It’s someone taking ownership, but I’m accountable for that, I own that. That when you see them taking ownership for the outcomes that have been committed, then you know that they’re on their way to high performance.

And really I’m thinking about individual performance, another thing a leader must do is monitor the performance of the people on the team. I wonder what you think about that? I’m always thinking, “Is everyone contributing? Is everyone doing their part or are there performance issues in one place or another on the team?” Because generally when a team is performing on a high level, you tend to think everything’s okay and I might overlook an individual that’s struggling on that. Have you ever seen anything like that?

Chris Goede:     Yeah.

Perry Holley:    Why are you looking at me

Chris Goede:     I looked at him, then I looked away. I think about the statement that I’ve heard one of our coaches on our team say, which is good habits are developed in bad times. Bad habits are developed in high performing teams to your point, right? And some people can just kind of get away with maybe not doing anything on contributing. But here’s what I want to tell you, team. This goes back to the credibility of a leader. We talk a lot about at level three influence in the 5 Levels of Leadership is that if you are aware of this, if you see it that certain people aren’t contributing, maybe they’re not doing their part, whatever it might be. You have to address that as a leader, you have to.

I would often recommend that you do it one-on-one first and then maybe do it in an appropriate manner with the team. Maybe you don’t have to, but the team knows. All of us around that team know what’s going on, know who’s contributing. They know who’s doing their part and who’s not. And so when they think that you don’t know as a leader or you’re not aware of it, you’re losing credibility as a leader. And so absolutely do you need to be aware of it? You need to address it. I would just encourage you to go about it the right way. And don’t just call them out in the next team meeting. “I was listening to Perry the other day. See, how I said that? Perry. “And he told me I needed to call you out for that.”

Well, one final rule of a high performing team we just want to leave you with is that as a leader of your team, whatever that looks like, you’re going to design the culture and the environment of which will produce a high performance team. We talk a lot about the fact that culture’s going to happen one way or another. So if you’re not intentional about it, if you don’t have team values, if you’re not making sure that the teams are honoring each other and making sure that…

I love what Patrick Lencioni says where, “Don’t ever, ever take the opportunity to crack a joke or make fun of another team member in a team meeting” or about something like that. You control the temperature of that team and that culture. And it will be by design or by default. And if you want a high performing team, you need to make sure you’re very aware of that.

Perry Holley:    Fantastic. Well, I had a question and you may have answered it already. I was saving this one, but that since I know you lead a high performance team and I think communication, how high performing teams communicate is so important. You gave an example a while ago like you were watching an email exchange and how the communication was going on. What is your role as a leader in really ensuring the right level and the appropriateness of communication with the team?

Chris Goede:     I think communication is everything. Now, what is not repeated is often forgotten. And for me as the leader, I shared the story of getting involved in a communication a little bit earlier. Let me also share what happened today on the other side of that. I came in this morning and something that I had a conversation with with one of our team members, I did not then communicate it to our team and I’m not laughing at the situation. I’m laughing at the fact that what dichotomy in just this session today, where I said, “Hey, this worked from a communication standpoint. And then over here, let me just tell you how I messed up. And by the way, welcome to the day of a leader. It’s going to happen to all of us.”

And I walked in and there was some tension and confusion, not only with that team member and another team member, but with the team, but there wasn’t any confusion between me and the team member that had the conversation because we had the conversation. You know where the gap was? Chris didn’t do a good job of taking that conversation, that communication, and then communicating to the rest of the team. So all of a sudden, I had a team that felt like it was a little maybe dysfunctional, wasn’t working on all cylinders. They didn’t have all the information.

And literally, first thing walking in this morning, I literally had walked down the hallway and go, “It’s all me. I did not do a good job of communicating. It’s all me. It’s my fault.” And so I think that communication is so key. The one last thing is I think how you structure your team meetings and the repetition of that and how and what you communicate is so important. Take advantage of that. You and I’ve had experience. One of our facilitators, Rick VanDermyden’s helping us with a structure and how we’re doing that and how we’re running our meetings very effectively. And I think that has also been a huge part of us becoming a high performing team.

Perry Holley:    I totally agree. And you didn’t see this when I came by your office a while ago. I had to actually apologize to one of the team members that we had a miscommunication. And I thought I was very clear. I was very clear. Unfortunately, I’ve got to copy the right people. I was being very clear to one person and I wasn’t including the whole team into that. Any comments as we wrap up?

Chris Goede:     No. I just encourage you as you begin to think about what is the culture of your team. We all want a high performing team. That’s the end state. Let’s back up in the beginning. Let’s start asking yourself questions around what is your influence with each team member that’s on your team and then what is the culture that you’re creating? It’s contagious and don’t ever forget it’s going to happen by design or by default. And if you start with the end in mind and you start thinking about that all the way back to the vision and where we’re going and the goals and the mindset, I promise you the Law of the Big Mo will help if you set the feeling, the how we think act and interact, and the culture of our business will take care of the results.

So many times, I was in a conversation the other day with an organization that has many, many different franchises. And they’re outperforming the corporate, all the other franchisee owners in this corporate structure. And he said, “You know what’s interesting, Chris?” He said, “People ask me, ‘what are you doing? What are you measuring? What are you tracking? What are you talking about with your team?'” And he said, “The funny part is, yes, we have all of our KPIs in place, but every time we have a leadership team meeting, we’re talking about our people. We’re talking about the culture. We don’t necessarily use those meetings to talk about…”

Now that they have great business acumen, great KPIs, but that’s not what the focus is from that leadership team. And what’s amazing is that it is showing up as a high performing team in all of the metrics because they’re starting with the people focus on the front end.

Perry Holley:    Fantastic. Great words. Thank you very much. And as a reminder, if you want to know more about this topic about the 5 Levels or 360° Leader, you can always find that information at You can also leave a comment or a question for us there. You can also get the learner guide for this episode. And we are so grateful you would spend this time with us. That’s all today from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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