Practices of highly productive leaders

I define leadership by results. Specifically, the capacity to influence others through inspiration and passion, generated by vision, ignited by a purpose — and produced by conviction. With a deeper bench of up-and-coming leaders, you can improve performance and be better positioned to plan for future success.

My vision for successful and enduring leadership evolution comes from the book The 5 Levels of Leadership by leadership trainer John Maxwell. Of Maxwell’s five levels, I concentrated on level three — production. From Maxwell’s own description of this level, this is the place where production becomes intertwined with success. As more is produced, leaders find themselves more able to deal with thorny issues while team members feel motivated by the success of productivity. This brings them up a level in productivity and renews the cycle.

My own leadership experience combined with Maxwell’s work prompted me to develop my own practices of highly productive leaders.

  1. Build discipline and good habits

Productive leaders must build habits that put them in a position to execute. They are intentional in how they spend their time — building habits that drive productivity while forgoing short-term gratification in favor of long-term accomplishment.

  1. Do more than you ask from others

If you are expecting your team members to work hard — putting in extra effort and hours around a big deadline — you must be willing to do the same, if not more.

  1. Prioritize

Prioritisation is a critical skill for any highly productive individual. Level three leaders limit their focus to real priorities before committing to real action.

  1. Make difficult decisions

High levels of productivity require making difficult decisions and include listening to others’ feedback. This may mean terminating a team member who is not producing, letting go of a client, changing course on a project, re-strategising, selecting team member promotions and so on.

  1. Have difficult conversations

Embracing difficult conversations, not relying on emails or avoiding them altogether is key. Face-to-face conversations are a must.

  1. Turn on critical thinking

Critical thinking requires taking the time to sit and think fully through an issue or opportunity. Thinking through the root issue, options, solutions and the outcome are necessary to master production.

  1. Own results and be accountable

Level three leaders know the buck stops with them. They are accountable for the results and know what they need to achieve. These individuals thrive on being responsible and being held accountable — no matter what.

  1. Prepare for your day

Production-focused leaders are individuals who prepare for their day in advance and come to meetings fully prepared to discuss the topics at hand.

  1. Organize actions

Take your own notes. Don’t rely on a note taker. What action do we take next? Include a clear recap with action items that include ownership, due dates and follow-through.

  1. Ask why to dig deeper

Do not accept a possible answer at face value. Your decision may be based on inaccurate information or a symptom of the real issue. Dig deeper. Production-focused leaders will understand that this forces the team to think critically, learn and grow.

  1. Embracing conflict while leading change

Generally speaking, people do not enjoy conflict. It is often needed in order to change and make progress — even if a team has differing opinions. Develop momentum, keep it going and move in the right direction.

  1. Keep focused on results

Results matter, regardless of obstacles: what the economy tries to dictate, problems that others may experience and so on. These leaders complete what they set out to do by staying focused on achieving results.

  1. Show positive enthusiasm

Bring positive energy and excitement to everything you do and each situation. Positivity is critical for driving production.

  1. Seek alignment with others

Alignment is one of the most critical practices of highly productive leaders — it keeps everyone rowing in the right direction. Align how you spend your time and energy with other team members, clients and customers.

  1. Listen

Active listening is key — think about what the other person is saying. Avoid listening so that you can have a chance to talk. Confirm that you are engaged through verbal affirmation and nonverbal communication, such as nodding and eye contact.

  1. Speak simply and directly

While people grow in their careers, they may fall into “MBA talk.” Don’t overcomplicate how you express yourself by saying more than is needed or making it more difficult to understand. State your point clearly and directly.

  1. Act as coach

Coaching is about investing time in others, primarily one on one. It requires a commitment by both parties, clear goal-setting and asking thought-provoking questions to promote growth.

  1. Teach

Teaching requires taking the time to instruct, test, evaluate and provide feedback.

  1. Inspect expectations

Leaders may often neglect this practice of inspection — a show of caring about results. Team members want you to inspect the expectations you have for them in order to make them feel valued.

  1. Provide feedback

Invest in your team members by providing clear feedback and valuable performance evaluations — along with encouragement and positive reinforcement.


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