Critical Barriers to High-Performance Leaders

Before I get into the critical barriers that are preventing team success and business results, it is essential first to define what high-performance is.

Woman reviewing performance data on tablet

The definition of high-performance varies by industry, companies, teams and leaders. It is essential to understand what high-performance means to you and to have the understanding that this definition can change, develop and evolve. 

Let me start by defining high-performance in my terms.

“As a leader, I always aim to have my team delivering results that have had team members feel challenged learning, and leaving them with a sense of fulfilment that they did the best they could do. Most importantly, I want them to be able to achieve these conditions consistently. It might surprise you to know that consistently delivering means I have to ensure my high-performance team is never operating at 100% all the time, as this could lead to burning out.”

Take time now, and reflect on how you define high-performance. The table of critical terms below may help you formulate your definition. Do you focus on the results and your team’s development?

Essential Terms For High-Performance

  • Highly skilled
  • Collaborative 
  • Goal orientated 
  • Innovated 
  • Produces superior results 
  • Positive attitude 
  • Purpose-driven 
  • Healthy conflict resolution 
  • Accountable 
  • Open communication 
  • High levels of trust

Why your choice of metrics matters

High-performance is relative and individual for each leader. Let me illustrate this idea with an example from the fitness world.

Tim and Zoe train together at the gym. A typical measure of strength most lifters use is the concept of a one-repetition maximum (1RM). The one-repetition maximum is the heaviest a person can lift for a specific exercise one time. Let’s say Tim can lift 150 kg and Zoe can lift 120 kg.

Relative to each other, one may assume that Tim is a higher performer (can lift more) than Zoe.

However, a way to even the playing field, and make this a relative measure of performance, is to divide the amount lifted by the person's weight. Let us assume Tim's weight is 96 kg and Zoe’s weight is 70 kg. Using their power to weight ratio as the new benchmark for high-performance, Tim can lift 1.56 times his body weight, whereas Zoe can lift 1.7 times her body weight (Table 1). Therefore, Zoe is proportionally stronger, hence a higher performer.





Highest Performer

One-repetition maximum

150 kg

120 kg


Power to Weight Ratio


150 ÷ 96


= 1.56

120 ÷ 70


= 1.71



Table 1. Power to weight ratio


Identifying areas for improving performance

When wanting to improve performance, a leader usually has two areas in their control: business strategy and the capability of their people.

Business strategy

A business strategy could apply to your team or the company, depending on your level in the organisation. For example, you may focus on the business’ resources and efforts on winning a specific type of customer or developing new products or services to improve the profitability of the company.  

One case which demonstrates the success of improving performance through changes to a business strategy is General Electric (GE). Jack Welch, a highly regarded corporate leader, spent two decades as GE’s chairman and chief executive, from 1981 to 2001. A chemical engineer by training, Welch transformed the company from a maker of appliances and light bulbs into an industrial and financial services powerhouse. During his tenure, GE’s revenue grew nearly fivefold, and the firm’s market capitalisation increased 30-fold.

Your people's capability

People’s capability involves understanding what your team is currently capable of achieving. Once you have a baseline, then increasing the team's strengths, either through ongoing training and development or recruiting specific skills and talents into the team, is a means of improving the overall performance of the organisation. 

Most leaders focus on the first part – developing a great strategy. A clear business strategy is incredibly essential, but for a plan to be successful, your people need to be capable. People’s capability tends to be handled by the annual performance reviews or another form of benchmarking which give leaders a gauge of their team's skills.

It seems crazy that more time is often spent on focusing on developing strategies and plans, rather than peoples’ ability to execute the plan. Given people are such a high cost of doing business, and it makes sense that, as a leader, you spend time growing and developing your people.

A typical approach in most organisations is to rank and focus on the top performers, 10-20% of the organisation that is performing above average. Some leaders focus on the bottom 10%; people who are dragging down performance. They hope that by removing poor performance will drive improvement across the organisation.  Despite this, you have the same issue - your strategy is either executed slowly or not effectively.

In my next post, we will cover off the three hard truth that you need to understand to help you achieve high performance.