As the leader, in what way can you show up to increase your team’s performance?

Photo credit Google Images

Photo credit Google Images

This week, I received a handwritten letter from a friend:

“Hi Steve,

Just a quick note to say Happy New Year. Hold on tight it’s going to be a good one.

Love, Elena

p.s. So glad you crossed my path in life.”


Elena, I’d guess, is around 70 years of age. She and I met 10 years ago as volunteers serving turkey dinners on Thanksgiving and Christmas morning at the Rescue Mission.  We’ve seen each other twice a year (except for one Thanksgiving when I visited family in Westchester) for the last 10 years.

The first time we met, around 2002, we were paired at the same table serving clients turkey, coffee, soda, and dessert. We looked like Mutt and Jeff with she being about 5’1″ and I, 6’5″. We instantly connected like mashed potatoes and gravy.

There was a stretch in years 3-8 when we weren’t together. We were either paired with other volunteers at other tables or I was back in the kitchen on the team assembly line plating over 1,200 meals to be delivered to shutins. The last two years, Elena has made it a point to get us paired together at the same table each time.

Whether working together or apart, a tradition developed. Around 1pm, after all clients were served, Elena and I sit down for some quiet time to enjoy dinner together.

At our last perennial Christmas turkey dinner, Elena shared what was happening in her world the past year. I noticed she was taking chances. Being bold. Especially in group situations. “You’re a leader,” I said. I could tell she was surprised by my comment as she glanced at me with eyebrows raised.

She continued to share scenarios over the past year, and seeing a distinct pattern developing, I felt obligated not to step over this moment; “Elena, you’re challenging the process. That’s what leaders do,”  I said. She smiled and modestly thanked me for the comment.

What I did with Elena is called encouraging the heart. This is the fifth element of the five practices of exemplary leaders in the workshop The Leadership Challenge. I recognized the contributions she was making by showing appreciation for her individual excellence.

As a professional coach, I’m trained to listen. I’m listening to what the other person is saying and not saying several layers deeper than normal. I’m not coming from the standpoint of waiting for a short pause where I can add my two cents. Instead, I’m expecting, in every conversation, the other person will influence or change me in some way. Or, I’ll see something in them that deserves acknowledgement.

So, how can you increase the performance of your team?

  • Listen at a deeper level and stay focused on the person in conversation.
  • Expect something special to come out of every dialogue.
  • Encourage the heart and acknowledge their gifts.

This week, as Emeril Lagasse might say, take your communication skills and kick them up a notch . Be intentional about listening at a deeper level, and acknowledge with authenticity. I guarantee, if you improve these two things, your team will increase their performance.

p.s. I’m writing Elena a letter thanking her for the heartfelt thoughts. She doesn’t use  email and I don’t have her phone number. Old school is refreshing.


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