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Posted: December 30, 2011

Nine unusual high-performance traits

What does that company have that yours doesn't?

TC North

High-performing individuals, including world-class athletes and business leaders, are different from average athletes and business leaders. High-performance organizations and workplaces are also different from average businesses. What makes them so dissimilar? Here are nine differentiators from high-performance psychology.

1. Willingness to fail. People are willing to fail in order to learn and succeed, and this is encouraged throughout the organization. This characteristic is a great differentiator both for high-performing individuals and organizations. Greatness requires doing and/or being different (think Apple computers); risk is inherent in being different.

2. Motivation driven by excitement, not fear. Both individual and team motivation is driven by excitement versus fear. When you're in fear, you play not to lose. You focus on not making mistakes and spend a lot of energy covering you butt. This is a negative focus. However, when you're driven by the excitement of winning or achieving your goals, this is a positive focus. The focus is on what you want versus what you don't want.

3. Obsessive focus. Leaders are obsessively focused on two things: 1) creating a high-performance culture and 2) being known for one product, service or something that differentiates the company in its market. Average businesses are often too many things to too many people and don't stand out. This is especially true for entrepreneurs. To be a high-performing entrepreneur, you must be obsessively focused on these two things.

4. Respect. For all team members to be inspired by their leaders and align with the vision and strategies, leaders must be respected. They don't necessarily have to be respected for every part of their life, but they must at least be respected for their brilliance in vision and strategy. Leaders who are also highly respected for their values and ethics can create an even stronger, values-driven, high-performance culture - the ideal culture.

5. Alignment. To create alignment, people must believe in the vision and in one another. In aligned organizations, trust is extremely high in all interactions, and cover-your-butt, protect-your-turf and "siloing" activities are virtually nonexistent. There's alignment among the organization's vision, team goals and individual goals. This characteristic should be pretty obvious, but in reality it's difficult to find. Basic laws of physics state that the greater the amount of energy you have moving in one direction (toward your vision) and the less resistance you encounter, the faster you progress.

6. Positive accountability. High performers love positive accountability; only masochists like fear-based accountability. Positive accountability occurs when mutually agreed-on goals are regularly discussed, successes are celebrated, and unattained goals are learned from and corrections are made. One interesting exception to this is a culture that combines both acknowledging and celebrating successes with yelling and punishing those who make mistakes. This is the culture of some, not all, high-performing college and professional sports teams. It works because there's a deep caring, even a love, between the players and coaches. Without this emotional connection, it wouldn't work.

7. Shared values. Values are shared among all team members and drive all interactions. Interestingly, you can actually have a high-performance team with good values or bad values. If you're on a team of thieves and you all share a love of conning, lying and stealing, you can actually create a high-performance culture with the shared values of thieves. (I'd like to discourage that, though!)

8. No whining, complaining or excuses. There's little to no whining, complaining or excuses. People take full responsibility for deadlines as well as their goals and mistakes. This may be the greatest differentiator of all high-performance characteristics! From 2008 through 2010, three really tough years in the U.S. economy, high-performing CEOs and sales professionals took complete responsibility for their results. They didn't point fingers or blame the economy; they constantly pursued what they could do to thrive in the current situation. During those three years, I know three realtors who had their best years ever! These realtors never whined, complained or made excuses while others did; they put all of their energy into creating opportunities.

9. Meet or exceed. If you implement the above psychological characteristics of high-performance organizations and teams, you're likely to meet or exceed your critical goals. This is the ultimate measure of becoming a high-performing organization or workplace - you regularly meet or exceed what you commit to accomplish.
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Dr. TC North is co-author of the Amazon bestseller Fearless Leaders. For 28 years, he has been a high-performance executive coach and speaker who helps individuals and organizations identify and attain their visions and dreams. He also has coached professional and Olympic athletes in the art of creating thoughts and emotions that maximize success. He’s a professional speaker on “Fearless Leaders” and “Master Fear.” Dr. North’s work has been featured on TV and radio and in business and scientific journals. Learn more at Contact Dr. North at 303-665-8920 or, or connect on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.





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Readers Respond

Don, thanks for your kind words! I'm interested to know what the wider demographic is. There's lots more coming ... I look forward to your comments! By TC North on 2011 04 29
TC, Well said! Keep doing what you are doing as your influence is large and on a wider demographic than you realize. Look forward to the next installment. Don Van Winkle By Don Van Winkle on 2011 04 29
John, thanks for your entrepreneurial perspective. Yes, we entrepreneurs share some characteristics with cats: very independent and we want to do things our own way! By TC North on 2011 04 27
I think that you've summed up some of the most important attributes of an entrepeneur. 98% of society think that they can do it but 2% can. It is a unique set of requirements that most politicians give lip service to, but few actually understand. It's also why we don't wield more political clout than we do. getting business owners together is like herding cats. By John Wray on 2011 04 27
Chris, I am currently offering a limited number of folks a 45 minute debrief of the Blast Through High Performance Assessments they take gratis, with me. Both the assessments and the debrief are gratis for now. I'm collecting additional information to better norm the assessment results and I'd like more direct feedback on the benefits of the assessment and/or how to improve it. If you go to my website www.TCNorth you will find all my contact information; email or call me. If there are other folks who would like to take either the individual or organization assessment and have a feedback session, gratis, please email or call me, I will accept a limited number. By TC North on 2011 04 21
Hi TC, You're most welcome. Sounds like a great assessment, and thanks for raising the bar for effective leaders and companies. If you need any beta testers :o) let me know. Yours, Chris By Chris Hutchinson on 2011 04 21
Chris, another good comment. Thank you. My observations have led me to score each of these traits on a continuum. It's difficult to find a company or team that scores perfectly on all these traits. I am releasing a "Blast Through High-Performance Organization Assessment" that includes these traits, which are cultural, in combination with traits that reflect a high-performance business model and strategies. I also have an individual "Blast Through to High-Performance" assessment for individuals, which includes 15 differentiators of world-class achievers (business leaders and athletes) which is used with my high-performance executive coaching clients. It's also, rated on a continuum. By TC North on 2011 04 21
Thanks, TC. Absolutely agree it's about values as lived by leadership, rather than as espoused. The best part about your list (1-8) is that individually the traits you point out are vitally necessary, yet insufficient. I would even go as far as saying that if any of these are not present, the organization will struggle to be high-performance. Chris By Chris Hutchinson on 2011 04 21
Thanks, Chris; great comments! Culture is always a direct reflection of the values leaders live. By TC North on 2011 04 21
Great list! A couple of counter-intuitive qualities connected to / stem from yours: Abundance – belief we can create more than what is. Transparency – openness creates trust and mutual understanding. And of course all the traits have to stem from the leadership or high performance won’t be sustainable. By Chris Hutchinson on 2011 04 21
Hi Debbie, thanks for letting me know your favorite! One vote for #6 and one for #8. It would be interesting to have a pole to determine which of the 9 unusual traits all of us readers find most defines a high-performance team/organization ... anyone else have a comment? By TC North on 2011 04 14
Hi TC - my favorite is #6. The others are important but this one strikes home for me. I love being held accountable in this way because it reinforces a positive outcome. Both ways I grow and learn even more and the cycle continues and feeds on itself: that's a good growth cycle! By Debbie Hindman on 2011 04 13
Thanks, Liz. The biggest problem for the folks who have adopted your favorite, "No whining, complaining and excuses" is after they have become aware of how they do it and get it under control, it's hard for them not to say anything to everyone around them who is whining, complaining and making excuses! By TC North on 2011 04 13
Welcome back Dr. North! I loved this article and appreciate your insight and reminders. # 8 is my favorite. May I send the people that whine, complain and blame to you? Hope to read more from you. By Liz Wendling on 2011 04 13

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