Blog | Xquadrant

4 Pitfalls of High Performers

How to avoid the common traps that limit C-suite leaders' future success

You’re a high achieving founder/executive with an impressive track record.

You’re a quick-thinking strategic problem solver. You love the challenge of fast-moving, complex situations. You’re always among the first to catch a vision.

But despite that, you don’t feel that special inside because of the deep sense that you could achieve so much more. You know you’re playing too small a game.

Sounds familiar? You’re not alone.

In my coaching and consulting work with incredibly impressive founders/C-Suite leaders and their teams, I’ve found four main pitfalls keep high performers from achieving their potential.

In this document, I describe these pitfalls.

You won’t necessarily find all apply to you. But my clients have demonstrated that when you overcome your top 1-2 issues on this list, your world and your legacy transform.

1. You’re not tapping into your ‘rocket fuel'

You may have a great role that’s grown stale, despite being objectively “awesome” (prestigious, well paid). Perhaps you suddenly feel a sense of stagnation. Or you have a gnawing dissatisfaction that you’re not on a meaningful mission.

There can be a lot of fear. By most standards, you’re flying high. So it feels you have a lot to lose: self esteem, a stable financial situation. This can cripple your ability to make inspiring career leaps and push you into playing it safe and looking for incremental opportunities rather than exponential success.

The secret truth is, you’re desperate for greater, more significant, impact - but there’s a fear that if you reach for it you might actually come up short for the first time in your life, or the cost might be too great.

If this is you…

  • It’s time to connect with your “North Star” and find a personal mission that’s so compelling that NOTHING will stop you.
  • Take time to explore alternative projects and “future selves”. You’re probably a fast-mover, but here, taking time will be essential.
  • Recommended resource: Career Transitions: Exponential strategies for high performers.

2. You’re missing a thinking environment

If you’re isolated and overloaded, you’ll find that you aren’t able to do the ‘next-level thinking’ you need to make big progress on your strategic goals.

You may find yourself isolated because there are complex high-stakes decisions to be taken, and few neutral voices available. Often, there’s no real challenge to your viewpoint.

Like many leaders, you may feel overloaded. You, and everyone around you, are maxed out. However, you know it’s not sustainable and that it will take a toll on health and family.

Often whole organisations are like this: everyone is maxed out on operational issues, and the deep thinking isn’t happening. There’s progress, but it’s too slow and incredibly hard work.

If this is you…

  • Create a thinking environment – ring-fenced time to process the big issues that need addressing. Get an executive coach, or get together with someone you respect outside the organisation who can act as a strategic sounding-board.
  • Recommended resource: Strategic Breakthrough Consultation.

3. Your leadership team isn’t a true team

Your direct reports are one of your key levers to scale impact. Many founders and execs are happy with the individuals – but are frustrated at the lack of cohesion in the team as a whole.

You know the situation. Everyone is a high performer, but it doesn’t feel like a high-performing team:

  • There’s not enough ownership and collective responsibility. Everyone focuses on their functional silo, leaving you to be the glue that holds everything together.
  • Meetings are ‘meh’, missing a sense of momentum, focus and bold decision-making.
  • There aren’t ‘courageous conversations’ on key issues.
  • 20% of people do 80% of the talking.

If this is you…

  • It’s time to establish a blueprint for HOW the team operates (and not just WHAT the team does).
  • On a personal level, take a look at how much you set vision and problem-solve for your team, rather than encouraging them to develop their own goals and solve their own problems. Most high-performing leaders disempower their own teams without noticing it.
  • Recommended resource: Leadership team meetings: How to have better discussions.

4. You’ve not mastered “scalability"

You need to grow or lead change across an organisation and you have a strong, cohesive “inner circle” - but you’re not sure their teams are truly aligned.

There isn’t the right degree of focus, and there’s also pockets of resistance in various places. You don’t feel everyone ‘gets it’.

Your managers aren’t managing their teams with the strategic focus, empowerment and clarity of message that you need.

Overall, the organisation feels like it’s missing a ‘central nervous structure’. It’s hard to control, especially with people working remotely and in many locations.

If this is you…

  • Think about whether your organisation has a consistent, objective leadership culture across all levels. How are you creating consistency in behaviour and leadership mindset across offices, teams and divisions?
  • Consider what mechanisms you have in place to multiply skillsets and mindsets across the organisation.
  • Recommended resource: Scaling a company: why leaders in tech fail to capture the market.

So…. which of these is your biggest issue right now?

  • CLARITY: You’re not tapping into your ‘rocket fuel’
  • OVERLOAD: You’re missing a thinking environment
  • OWNERSHIP: Your leadership team isn’t a true team
  • ALIGNMENT: You’ve not mastered “scalability"

We’d like to offer you fresh perspective and best practices to overcome these obstacles.

If you want to identify or deliver a big strategic objective for your or your organisation in the next 12 months, apply for a complimentary 1:1 consulting call here:

We’ll roll up our sleeves, push your thinking and find some practical steps. There’s no hard sell or obligation to buy anything.

Recalibrate your leadership skill set

Many leaders stop growing because they’re getting great reviews from their boss and strong feedback from their people.

Unfortunately, they don’t realize they’re still only in the first phase of their leadership journey.

Perhaps you’re getting results from your team that bolster your company’s bottom line. Your people respect you and look to you for direction. You know you’re an effective leader – maybe you’d even rate yourself as, say, an 8 out of 10.

However, you might be using a scale made for people with more modest ambition.

It’s time to recalibrate that scale to reveal the tremendous opportunities for growth--and to inspire yourself to reach for greater heights.

How Coca-Cola recalibrated its idea of what was possible

Look at how Coca Cola recalibrated its concept of what it had the ability to achieve. The company had already cornered over 65% of the international soft drink market – the height of success, one might say. However, instead of just patting themselves on the back for a job well done, executives realised they’d only cornered a small portion of the total drink market.

Meanwhile, Pepsi dominated 77% of the sports drink market and 88% of coffee drinks. Now, Coca Cola too is focused on becoming a “total beverage company” that dominates in many different categories of drinks where it has boundless room for growth.

The lesson: Don’t just luxuriate – and languish – in your success, and 

  • Re-calibrate your idea of what is possible for you to achieve in your own journey 
  • Evaluate yourself on a new leadership scale; a scale calibrated for people who want to leave behind a legacy of success
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Scaling a company: Why leaders in tech fail to capture the market

  • Warning: This article has the potential to change your business and your personal leadership forever. If you’re looking for a quick piece of content candy, I advise you to skip this article and get back to work. However, if you know that what got your organisation here won’t be enough for its next phase of growth then you’re in the right place.

The ugly truth is this. In fast-moving sectors like tech, 90% of smart and experienced business leaders - like you! - are going to fail to achieve the incredible results they envision.

  • Their organisation either fails to execute fast enough to fully seize the opportunity - and competitors capture the growth instead.
  • Or they experience fantastic growth but fail to put in place the foundations to sustain their success. The Kauffman Foundation found that 2/3 of the Inc. magazine’s list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies had shrunk, gone out of business, or been disadvantageously sold after 5-8 years.
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Team Meetings: How to have better discussions

Do you know this issue? You have very capable, strong performers on your leadership team, but team meetings and discussions are… unsatisfying!

It’s so frustrating because you know the calibre of people in the room and you know the team could be accomplishing so much more together.

Well, I’ve been working with a couple of really strong, high-performing leaders recently who had similar issues with their leadership team meetings.

The problems?

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How to avoid the common error that creates cynical and stagnant teams

Time and time again leaders watch as pivotal moments get forgotten and real opportunity to play at a new level fades away. Here’s how to stop that from happening.

How most leaders cripple team development

We’ve all been there. You turn up to the annual team offsite meeting. You suddenly remember what happened at last year’s meeting.

Or rather, what didn’t happen.

The team had enthusiastically written a bunch of “game-changing” actions and initiatives on the whiteboard. And now, a year on, practically nothing has changed.

Or perhaps you did some team development work, but the new behaviours the team committed to are completely forgotten.

This can happen with the best of intentions. I’m working with a fantastic, senior leadership team. We made significant progress over a three-month period, and we were seeing gains in collaboration, alignment and stronger ownership of key business goals.

But - year end happened, there were some contractual delays, then there was the start-of-year kick-off season. Before we’d noticed, four months had passed without any follow-up.

Of course, momentum and focus took a huge hit.

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How strong, powerful leaders actually undermine their own success

Strong, strategic leaders are an incredible asset - but they can easily and permanently undermine the long-term success of the team. Here’s how you can avoid this common but often unseen pitfall.

Superstar leader, strong team - but growing disengagement

I was working with the Senior Leadership Team of a UK company.

10 experienced people around the table, including a phenomenal, brilliant high-performer as their leader.

Two people were taking up 50% of the “airtime” and engaging in vigorous debate. Add another two people, and 80% of the airtime was accounted for.

That meant that six people’s contributions (60% of the team!) were squeezed into the remaining 20% of airtime.

A recipe for disengagement, silo-thinking and underperformance.

Now, we solved the issue but it’s important to understand what the dynamics were that created this problem in the first place. I’ll explain that in a second - but you need to understand the power of the Conqueror vantage point first.

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How your team can start punching above its weight

You might have a focused strategy, a great product and relentless execution, but if you fail to harness the power of one key leadership perspective in your team, your impact will remain moderate.

In this article we’ll cover the key to skyrocket your team’s influence and achieve your goals faster than ever.

But first, a quick story.

How we rocketed to CEO-level visibility and impact

At Cisco I was in a very strong leadership team, in an incredibly strong ‘elite’ business unit. However, our team’s impact soared and eclipsed many other parts of the business unit for one key reason: our team’s leader, my manager.

Not necessarily the greatest at delivering detailed work, he was a master…. I mean MASTER… of networking and communication. He was promoted through the ranks at astonishing speed, leveraged his vast internal network to catapult the visibility and impact of the team, and ended up becoming personal friends with Chairman John Chambers and CEO Chuck Robbins.

This relational strength allowed our team to have an impact far and beyond most other groups in the company, becoming the go-to resource for some of Cisco’s highest-visibility marketing campaigns and work with customers.

Our manager was a multiplying factor… a true catalyst for our team’s impact.

Ignore the Catalyst at your peril.

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How to turn your team into an execution machine

If you’re an entrepreneurial, visionary leader but are frustrated at your team’s performance or their reluctance to ‘get on board’, the good news is there’s a huge opportunity to increase performance.

There’s an essential leadership perspective on your team that you may actually feel is holding you back, but in fact can make all the difference.

A board of directors in conflict over future strategy

I was on the board of a non-profit several years ago and there was tension in the air! The market had changed dramatically over the last couple of decades and signs of decline were starting to appear. As someone inclined to look at the world through a lens of innovation and growth, I had rather bold ideas to reimagine how we functioned and raise our game. A number of other people shared my perspective.

Others on the board, however, were strongly opposed to what they saw as ripping up the success formula that had got us to where we were. They argued that we needed to get better at what we were already doing, whilst tightening our budget to reflect the facts of the situation.

The situation got heated. We were at risk of splitting into factions.

This is a classic progressive/conservative situation. In my clients, this often shows up as “visionary CEO vs pragmatic COO”.

But before I explain how we resolved the situation, let’s step back and understand the leadership perspective that held the key to unlocking this situation.

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How to release the game-changing potential of your team

“I want more innovative thinking from my organisation.” We hear this all the time from C-Suite leaders. Well, what if there were actually game-changing ideas that you simply weren’t hearing?

When a missed perspective results in missed opportunities

I was coaching the exec team of a high-growth tech firm, and had some in-depth discussions with the two co-founders, Raoul and Michael.

Raoul was an entrepreneurial, strategic and charismatic leader who had taken the CEO role, whereas Michael was a quieter, more reserved individual.

I noted that Michael was barely heard in the management meetings, drowned out by Raoul’s force of personality.

But when I dug into the company history, all the breakthroughs had come from Michael - and the lion’s share of dead-end strategies and projects had come from Raoul!

Raoul is a great leader, but those times when he didn’t listen to Michael’s holistic, long-range thinking were the times when he took the company down the wrong path, wasting time, resources and market share in the process.

I’ll tell you what I found as I coached Michael, but first let’s back-up a little…

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