Leading a good team of employees requires a foundation they can trust, believe in and focus on that will lead them to achieve their best performance. One of the reasons athletic teams win continuously is because their leaders have developed a foundation on which they can build success that's repeatable year after year, even with constant personnel turnover.

Ever notice how a good coach can leave a team, take on a losing program, and in short order have that program winning? It's because he implements that winning foundation and the players believe in it, trust the coach's success, and deliver top performances as a result.

The same approach can be taken with businesses. Define a winning foundation, create a culture of success, and regardless of changes of personnel, success will be consistent when implementing these three principles.

  1. Strategy

    Seldom does anything of great success happen without a plan. One game day I was working with one of the winningest coaches in high school football on the motivation of his team for the big game. I was impressed by how the coach had a game day system outlined from 5 a.m. until the bus arrived back at the school following the game for the parents to pick up the players. The detailed schedule had every single minute accounted for — when to eat, when to work out, when to dress for the game, when to assemble the coaches for the review meeting, where the players were going to sit on the bus to the pre-game meal, and on and on.

    I asked if this was the same every game day. He said almost every game he had ever lost (and those were rare) were lost before the game was even played. He felt having a specific strategy and a tight plan better enabled his players to respond to the unknown on the field because they were so totally prepared that nothing distracted them from winning.

    In business the low-hanging fruit in most industries has already been picked, and now leaders must develop a strategic initiative on how to reach the toughest and most rewarding of performances from their employees.

    Long gone are the days of simply showing up for work, quietly not causing any waves, and gliding through the organization. At least in successful organizations, this will not happen. Why? Because when a leader creates a strategic plan for achieving success, he also creates within the plan measurements and accountabilities. He relates the strategy to every job in the organization so all employees understand their role in making that strategy a resounding success.

    A strategy for high performance, like a strategy for winning in sports, is knowing your own strengths and your opponents' weaknesses and then how to exploit both. Define your strategic competence; that which you do better than anyone else. It's the thing you totally have confidence in and your employees believe in. Once you've established what you are the best at, decide how to maximize the impact of that strength in the marketplace.

    Now look for opportunities to shine by examining your opponents' weaknesses. Are they poor on order follow-up? Do they have slack service reps? Are they just interested in landing the order, and then essentially abandon the customer once the order is booked?

    Identifying the weakness of the opposition not only shows you where you have opportunity to grab more business. It also energizes the staff when they see the opponent is beatable. For the staff, it builds their confidence, their belief and the willingness to make the effort to win.

    Not only must a leader have a well-defined and articulated strategy, but the plan needs to be well communicated to the entire staff. Regardless of the organization and the job titles in it, everyone is responsible for sales, and as soon as this attitude is understood and supported by all employees, winning and high performance have a foundation. Everyone must believe in the game plan to execute it properly, and just like in sports it's all-team effort.

    If one person wavers in their support of the strategy, it becomes evident who isn't playing up to standards and the target will be missed. Ask your team where the deadweight is and who isn't living their role in creating peak performance. They will know more quickly than you will if their co-workers have bought into the strategy and the focus the leader has decided on.

    Evaluate your strategic competence and explore the areas where you can exploit your competitors' weaknesses.

  2. Systems

    Many organizations have a beautifully bound strategic planning document the company's executives and its board of directors spent hours creating. They love what they've done, but all too often the document is presented to the employees in a quick-and-dirty meeting, and it then sits on the shelf for many months without being looked at again. Why does this happen? No systems were built into the organization to measure and enable employees as they live into the plans for the year.

    Ever had salespeople miss the mark and have ready-made excuses on why they missed their targets? The first question you should ask yourself: Do you as a leader have a system in place for them to follow, and if so did they follow it? Back to my coaching friend/client: “Every game I ever lost was lost before the game was even played.” The same goes for the business arena.

    How many times have you implemented a system of follow-up, sales tracking, standardized meeting schedules, etc., only to have those fade away like last week's headlines in a short period of time? When this happens, employees get the sense you lack discipline, you aren't committed to the systems you put in, and every new thing you try to implement is only a fad and will fade away quickly — so why bother to even try. Ever witness this in your workplace?

    Creating a system is not hard to do and there are ready-made systems and structures you can readily purchase or find online. It's the discipline to stick with a winning system. It's the consistency that creates a winning culture and an expectation of success. Great organizations focused on doing their best have solid systems that they stick with. That's because history has told them when they perform at these levels the profits follow.

    Ask yourself: What are the systems I have used successfully in the past that just didn't stick? What current systems are in place that people don't like using? Why are they not user-friendly? How could I make them easier to use yet still be success-focused?

  3. Style

    The strategy and systems are the science of effective performance; this is the art of performance — your leadership style. The first two are left brain competencies; this one requires the people skills and creativity of the right brain. The style is what sets apart great leaders from managers. Managers can understand the importance of strategy and the need for systems for people to follow. However, without the style added into the mix, there is not enough encouragement, people skills and motivation for the employees to buy into the process.

    Come back to the coach. There are almost as many coaching styles as there are coaches. Some are chair kickers, some are quiet. Some cuss up a storm and some are so passive you wonder if they even have a heartbeat, yet all of these styles have been successful and can work when the right leader with the right style matches up with the right players or employees. Leadership style is a personal choice, and individual behavior that must get results.

    Define your style as a leader. How well does it fit with your team of employees? Do they respond well or recoil when you “encourage” them? What results are you getting from your style? There is more than raw knowledge and discipline to being a leader of successful employees.

    This is why promoting your best performing employee to the next level without some leadership training fails. Most likely, you've taken a person with great left brain skills and a solid work ethic, who is now being asked to stop working with his hands and start working through the hands of others. The frustration he feels when his employees aren't following strategies and systems like he did creates friction because he lacks any leadership style. Note: Dictatorial leadership is not a style. It's no longer acceptable and will fail in today's work environment.

    Even in the sales process, you can have a great strategic idea and a solid system to follow, but without the people skills to build relationships that are lasting and meaningful, you are one phone call away from losing your customer.