It’s time we redefined ‘high performance.’

In a conversation about how to coach a group of underperforming salespeople, a client’s Sales Manager asked me why we couldn’t simply tell his sales team:

“This is your target; now get on with it and do what the company expects you to do. “After all, that is what we’re paying them for!”

Over the last couple of years, one of the overriding realizations is the role our unique ‘human-ness’ plays in our overall performance. It’s as if the deprivation of human contact during the pandemic suddenly made us appreciate the need for physical contact and face-to-face communication.

Futurists and published consultants do their best to help us make sense of this new turbulent and unpredictable world we face as humans by evolving frameworks with acronyms like VUCA into frameworks that better reflect the human state of mind, such as BANI.

As we become increasingly reliant on digital technology to replace human fallibility, anything requiring human effectiveness should make us re-evaluate what exactly it is that produces the best results.

After all, if we could dispose of specialist salespeople, for example, and turn sales into an AI-driven function, why haven’t we done so already?

In sales, consulting, advisory, and other customer-service-oriented functions, you need a whole host of ‘human’ skills and aptitudes such as rapport and connection, storytelling, credibility building, confidence, empathic listening, strategic questioning – and more!

All of these, unsurprisingly, rely on an optimal set of physical and psychological circumstances to evoke the best results.

In other words, ‘being our best’ means ‘being at our best’ – at our most resourceful, most creative, most empathic, and most confident selves.

In one of his very compelling talks, ‘Why leaders eat last,’ about why good leaders make people feel safe, Simon Sinek provides an elegant description of how neurotransmitters and hormones – the brain chemicals –  induce creativity, confidence, togetherness, pride… versus conditions such as fear and stress-producing, (cancer-inducing) cortisol.

The neuroscientific research and its precursors in emotional intelligence are overwhelming; mission-oriented organizations with a clear purpose and cohesive teams led in a nurturing environment outperform those that simply implement stretch goals and demanding targets.

Miles Downey said that leaders had three roles to play:

  1. the leader – to provide the vision
  2. the manager – for implementation & control, and
  3. the coach – to grow the team.

But that presents a challenge as these three roles are not always in harmony. They may even conflict with each other. Imagine if, as a coach, I discover through my relationship of trust that one of my team has been misappropriating company funds! Suddenly one of my roles must take precedence over another.

New world, new leaders, new approach

Whereas traditionally, leaders had to be smart tacticians, savvy politicians and clever in their own domains, we are now recognizing that leaders who build robust, nurturing cultures and drive agile, non-hierarchical teams deliver more successful and enduring organizations.

However, despite being confronted with a very different, more complex, and unpredictable world, corporate leaders today are still mired in pursuit of traditional goals instead of measuring success through the levers that create them.

In other words, while recognizing the need for EQ to build resilience and resourcefulness, we’re still too reliant on – and demanding of – IQ in pursuit of the golden egg: the profit motive.

As Dan Pink says, “When the profit motive becomes unmoored from the purpose motive, bad things happen.”

Optimal conditions = optimal performance

The link between EQ and high performance lies in leaders fostering a safe, nurturing environment that stimulates creativity, connectedness, and resourcefulness.

Only when conditions are optimal will leaders like our sales manager achieve the optimal performance they seek from their teams.

For that to happen, leaders need to lead and coach more and manage less. They need to help team members express their values through their behavior and thus their performance and help them connect to their purpose – their “Big Why” – daily.

As Peter Drucker said: “Profit is like oxygen; there is no life without it… but it is not the reason for living.”