<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=2049049351998780&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

Every-level Leadership: How Focusing on Performance Allows Everyone to Be a Leader

Beth Thornton

May 28, 2020

Your job can literally kill you. A new study from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business found that when employees feel like they have little autonomy over their work, their mental health suffers, resulting in depression and even death.

That’s dramatic, but the point remains: People need to feel like they have some control over their work, that they can freely make decisions to affect performance and achieve their goals.

Researchers followed over 3,000 employees over 20 years to better understand how their jobs affected their mental health. They discovered that “when job demands are greater than the control afforded by the job or an individual’s ability to deal with those demands, there is a deterioration of their mental health and, accordingly, an increased likelihood of death.”

Fortunately, they also found that the reverse is true: Good jobs fuel good health. The takeaway from this study, according to Fast Company: “Managers should provide employees in demanding jobs with more control, such as choice over how and when they do their work, or if that is not possible, lower demands.”

In our work with many large organizations, we’ve seen that the best-performing organizations are the ones that take this seriously. Their leadership inspires the rest of their people to be leaders themselves, fueling a sense of accomplishment. That is, everyone from executives to managers to front-line workers feels as though they can impact the goals of the organization through their daily work.

So, how do you get to that point? By focusing on continuous performance.

Years ago, the famous Jack Welch gave an interview on the Freakonomics podcast called “The Secret Life of a CEO.” When asked how he rose through the ranks at GE, Welch focused on the importance of performance.

He drew an analogy to baseball: “A baseball team publishes their batting averages every day. You don’t see the .180 hitter getting all the money, or all the raises … Athletics is the purest form of differentiation, because it’s public. Everybody understands it, the fans understand it, the people understand it.”

To summarize Welch’s point, when performance is visible and focused on continuous cycles — not just once a year at review time — and is recognized and appreciated, you can create a high-performing team. Everyone understands what it takes to get to the top and they do everything they can to push the team forward to new heights.

This is where the autonomy piece comes in: Executive leaders set the vision and goals of the organization, then they give their people the autonomy to collaborate with their peers, teammates, and leaders to make decisions on how these goals can be achieved. In this way, leaders work toward setting the tone and direction, and their people join the cause, taking the organization forward.

At Inspire, we are passionate about this message. One of our strategic advisors, Dr. Drea Zigarmi, and Jason Arnold, Director of Leadership Solutions at Inspire, wrote an e-book on how this looks at a practical level. One of the fundamental realities of creating a culture of performance excellence is continually cultivating conversations between managers, coaches, and mentors about individual and team goals, and focusing on the key performance indicators that give us critical insight on how to better lead those individuals and teams toward their objectives. Performance excellence includes consistent one-on-one conversations between managers and their employees to assess and discuss the skills, knowledge, and motivation that an individual, team, or organization experiences during the pursuit of critical objectives.

All of this leads to why we built Inspire — to integrate goals, performance, feedback, and recognition as critical parts of creating empowered leaders at all levels of an organization.

We want to inspire and motivate everyone to engage by having easy access to see what needs to be done, make decisions on how to get there, request guidance from leaders when needed, and celebrate success. 

Now more than ever, as we enter this age of what is being dubbed our “new normal,” we believe that leaders who follow these practices will see their organizations thriving now and in the future.